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As Nuclear Threat Grows, Israeli Biotech Company Signs $4.2M Contract With U.S. Military, Health Age

Pluri and the Department of Defense will collaborate to advance a potential breakthrough therapy for H-ARS.

A revolutionary treatment for radiation poisoning may be on the horizon, as threats of nuclear warfare continue to reverberate from Moscow.

Pluri Inc. (NASDAQ:PLUR), an Israeli biotechnology company specializing in cell expansion, on Tuesday announced a new partnership with U.S. health and military agencies to continue developing the company’s PLX-R18 cell therapy as a treatment for Hematopoietic Acute Radiation Syndrome (H-ARS), which can result from exposure to nuclear fallout. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) awarded Pluri and the Department of Defense’s Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute (AFRRI) a contract worth $4.2 million in total to advance the potential breakthrough cell therapy. 

The contract comes at a moment of heightened nuclear tension around the world. Warfare between Russia and Ukraine is encroaching on European nuclear power plants, and Russian President Vladimir Putin last month deployed tactical nuclear missiles to Belarus – the first time Moscow has moved such weapons beyond Russia’s borders since the Soviet Union.

A representation of the PLX-R18 cell therapy as a treatment for Hematopoietic Acute Radiation Syndrome (H-ARS). (Courtesy of Pluri)

Pluri CEO Yaky Yanay said Tuesday that global instability is all the more reason to prioritize development of potential medical breakthroughs to respond to nuclear events, like the cell therapy his company aims to bring to market. 

“The current time calls for us to accelerate the development and accessibility of radiation treatments, especially as geopolitical instability rises, and nuclear power plants face the threat of warfare,” Yanay said. 

H-ARS, more commonly known as radiation poisoning, is a potentially fatal condition caused by significant exposure to radiation in a short period of time – namely, in the wake of a nuclear accident or strike. Radiation can damage victim’s stomach, intestines, blood vessels and bone marrow, which produces blood cells, often leading to neutropenia, thrombocytopenia, cancer and sometimes death. 

But as nuclear weaponry has grown more advanced since the World War II era, medical solutions to treat victims of radiation poisoning have not kept pace.

It’s an issue that appears to be front-and-center in U.S. policy circles in the wake of Russia’s saber-rattling.

President Joe Biden called Putin’s act of aggression “absolutely irresponsible” and said the threat of a Russian nuclear strike is “real.” Biden administration officials have reiterated that they are closely monitoring the nuclear movements in Eastern Europe.

A representation of a scientist working on developing the PLX-R18 cell therapy as a treatment for Hematopoietic Acute Radiation Syndrome (H-ARS). (Courtesy of Pluri)

Currently, treatments for H-ARS are generally limited to supportive care to manage pain and discomfort, such as treating burns or infections. Comprehensive treatments primarily entail promoting white blood cells or conducting bone marrow transplants – a more ambitious and costly approach that isn’t possible on a larger scale – for instance, in the event of a nuclear explosion or the meltdown of a nuclear plant. 

Pluri’s potential PLX-R18 treatment would instead help repair damaged cells within the bone marrow, to support the recovery of blood cell production. Notably, it could also be administered proactively to those most likely to face exposure to nuclear fallout, such as soldiers or first responders.

The company will collaborate with an AFRRI laboratory in Maryland that specializes in developing radiation countermeasures for ARS.

“PLX-R18’s potential as a medical countermeasure for H-ARS is supported by robust human and animal data, making it a unique asset for further investigation,” said Vijay Singh, a professor leading the AFRRI laboratory. “I’m eager to commence our collaborative study with Pluri and have high expectations for results.”

The company’s idea is to develop a treatment that’s more feasible, cost-efficient and scalable than existing options. If successful, the research collaboration with the DOD could ultimately lead to market approval for Pluri’s PLX-R18 cell therapy from the Food and Drug Administration. That would make it eligible for purchase for the U.S. Strategic National Stockpile – a central plank of the nation’s medical response infrastructure – and, ultimately, widely available as treatment in the event of a nuclear catastrophe.

“Through this strategic contract with NIAID, we believe that we can realize our mission of making PLX-R18 readily available for emergency preparedness,” Yanay said. 

Pluri, based in Haifa, Israel, specializes in cell expansion technology with application across a wide range of industries, including food and ag-tech, biologics and other medical treatments.

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