“The detonation of an improvised nuclear device would produce intense heat, resulting in many patients with severe burns,” says a September 30 news release from the Department of Health and Human Services.
The announcement says HHS has contracted for the development of “four novel products to treat severe thermal burns.”
The products will boost the number of treatment options in case of disaster, and they’ll also be used in “routine” burn care situations.
The four treatments — one commercially available right now and three in development — “will be added to the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) or managed by vendors to help protect people from burn injuries resulting from radiological and nuclear threats,” HHS said.
The announcement notes that burns stemming from a nuclear attack may require surgial skin grafting that is “resource intensive and technically demanding.” And with only 127 burn centers nationwide, a “mass casualty” incident could “easily overwhelm the nation’s burn care infrastructure.”
“To protect health and save lives from the impacts of multiple types of disasters, we have to address critical challenges in burn care,” said Robin Robinson, Ph.D., director of HHS’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA). “These products are intended to offer greater options and help create a continuum of care in a mass casualty incident; together they have the potential to eliminate resource-intensive steps, shorten hospital stays and improve patient outcomes.”
The announcement comes at a time of heightened concern about national security in general and the threat of foreign terrorist fighters in particular.
A currently available treatment called Silverlon, manufactured by Argentum of Geneva, Ill., is described as a “long-acting, silver-impregnated nylon bandage that can be used to cover first- and second-degree thermal burns. HHS said Silverlon could help burn patients before they get surgical treatment for their injuries in the hospital. The five-year contract for delivery of Silverlon is valued at $20 million.
The other three products are being developed in federally funded clinical studies.
— NexoBrid (from MediWound of Israel), a topical gel made of pineapple-based enzymes and designed to dissolve the damaged or dead skin tissue to create a clean wound-bed for skin grafting. The five-year contract is valued at $20 million.
— StrataGraft (from Stratatech Corporation of Madison, Wis.), a cell-based skin made from living human cells that could reduce the need to remove healthy skin from the victim’s own body to graft over the burned skin; ($246.7 million contract);
— ReCell (from Avita Medical Americas, LLC of Northridge, Calif.), a topical spray derived from a small sample of the patient’s own skin. This topical spray may enhance skin growth, allowing burn surgeons to use smaller skin donor grafts, and stretch grafts over a larger burn wound. This contract has a total value up to $79.5 million.
HHS notes that since its inception in 2004, BARDA has supported the development and procurement of 16 medical countermeasures – vaccines, drugs, the new burn treatments and and other medical products needed for emergencies, including ionizing radiation and illnesses from anthrax, smallpox, and botulism.
Just this week, the Justice Department said that just in the past year, it has brought criminal cases against 70 individuals suspected of fomenting terrorism.
Sixty of them were charged with either supporting foreign terrorist fighters or attempting to join the group. The other 10 criminal cases were brought against individuals inspired by ISIL or other terrorist groups to commit attacks here in the United States.
“So between the 60 who wanted to join the foreign terrorist fighter groups and the 10 who wanted to commit attacks here in the United States, that’s how we have over 70 cases,” Assistant Attorney General John P. Carlin’s told the Foreign Press Center on Monday.