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  • DARPA Effort Targets Illness Faster, Safer and More Effectively

    June 08, 2012

    In addition to keeping the warfighter safe while deployed in theater, there is a clear need to maintain warfighter health throughout their military service. For example, the Military Infectious Disease Research Program reports that more warfighters are hospitalized each year for infectious diseases than are wounded in combat. 

    The negative effects of warfighter illness and downtime multiply when extended across the military: numerous medicines must be transported to military treatment facilities around the world, Soldiers must be trained to fill new roles, and in some cases operational plans must be modified or even postponed.

    A rapid and adaptable platform to treat military-relevant disease may reduce this logistical burden and increase operational readiness. In Vivo Nanoplatforms for Therapeutics (IVN:Tx) seeks revolutionary treatment methods to get sick warfighters back on their feet, fast. A solicitation posted today calls for development of nanoplatforms that treat a variety of diseases. Such nanoparticle therapeutic platforms could be rapidly modified to treat a broad range of diseases, but more importantly will be based on safe and effective technologies.

    While the medical community has been using small-molecule therapeutics to treat diseases for years, traditional drugs are often effective against only one disease, are associated with significant side effects and are very expensive to develop. “Doctors have been waiting for a flexible platform that could help them treat a variety of problematic diseases,” said Timothy Broderick, physician and DARPA program manager. “DARPA seeks to do just that by advancing revolutionary technologies such as nanoparticles coated with small interfering RNA (siRNA). RNA plays an active role in all biological processes, and by targeting RNA in specific cells we may be able to stop the processes that cause diseases of all types—from contagious, difficult-to-treat bacteria such as MRSA to traumatic brain injury.”

    Safety is a key factor to the many potential technical approaches for IVN:Tx. Nanoplatforms must be biocompatible, nontoxic and designed with eventual regulatory approval in mind. The IVN:Tx approach of treating illness inside specific cells may also minimize dosing required for clinical efficacy, limit side effects and adverse immune system response. Similar to today’s medicines, the therapeutic nanoparticles will move throughout the body in a natural, passive manner.

    IVN is a technology demonstration and human trials will not be funded. However, proposers are encouraged to submit plans for testing that would result in a clinical protocol prepared for approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA will be engaged with the IVN:Tx team throughout the program lifecycle by reviewing proposals, participating in Proposers’ Day meetings and participating in government review boards.

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