Image:A sign explaining the parameters concerning the Zika virus and blood donations is seen at the American Red Cross Charles Drew Donation Center in Washington February 16, 2016. REUTERS/Gary Cameron
(Reuters) – The U.S. government said on Monday it has agreed to help fund two pathogen reduction technologies to help reduce the risk of Zika virus and other infections from being transmitted through the blood supply.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said the funding will flow through its Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) unit, which will provide initial funding of $30.8 million to Cerus Corp and $17.5 million to the U.S. division of Japan’s Terumo Corp.
Cerus’s Intercept technology has already been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to reduce pathogens in platelets and plasma. It is conducting a trial to show it can also reduce pathogens in red blood cells.
BARDA’s agreement with Cerus includes $10.7 million to help evaluate the safety of the blood system in Puerto Rico, which is hard hit by the current Zika epidemic. The initial three-year contract could be extended for up to five years and include an additional $149 million to cover more studies, manufacturing and new products, including additional testing in regions where Zika is prevalent.
The contract with Terumo is to further develop its Mirasol System to confirm its can reduce the risk of infection through platelets. The contract may be extended up to a total of six years and $151.8 million to cover additional studies, manufacturing and new product development, including the expansion of the system for use with plasma.
BARDA also has the option to fund tests using the Mirasol system specifically against the Zika virus, HHS said.
“Both systems have been shown to reduce the presence of certain bacteria, viruses and parasites in blood components, though to varying degrees,” HHS said in a statement.
The safety of blood products, including red blood cells, plasma and platelets, is typically ensured through donor screening and testing of donated blood. Pathogen reduction technologies would complement existing systems to reduce the presence of viruses in various blood components.
“In particular,” HHS said, “the technologies can reduce the risk of transmitting emerging infectious diseases for which robust screening and testing methods may not yet be available.”
Cerus’s shares rose as high as $6.37 in morning trading on Nasdaq before slipping back to $6.20, or up 8.8 percent, at midday.
(Reporting by Toni Clarke in Washington; Editing by Bernard Orr)