Cerus, Baxter Developing Product That Destroys Bacteria, Viruses in Individual Units of Blood
Biotechnology company Cerus Corp. and medical products firm Baxter International Inc. will soon launch in the United States and Europe a new product that can kill bacteria and viruses contained in individual blood units, the Wall Street Journal reports. The technology, called pathogen inactivation, "chemically zips up" an organism's DNA and RNA, thus preventing it from multiplying. Since the organism cannot reproduce, it eventually dies and the blood is "safe for human use," the Journal reports. Pathogen inactivation could kill organisms that conventional blood tests do not detect, such as those that cause malaria and Lyme disease, and it might be beneficial in cases where screening tests fail to detect contaminated blood. However, the technology is limited because it does not attack all organisms that cause disease -- including the mutated proteins that cause mad-cow disease -- but only those with DNA and RNA, according to Harvey Klein, chief of the department of transfusion medicine for NIH. In addition, some experts question whether pathogen inactivation will eradicate "all traces" of a virus or bacteria that is especially concentrated in the blood. Cerus President and CEO Stephen Isaacs cautioned that the technology is not meant to take the place of blood tests that screen for HIV and other contaminants, adding that pathogen inactivation is only "another layer" of protection for the blood supply. Cerus' and Baxter International's product, called Intercept, consists of three separate products designed for use on platelets, plasma and red blood cells after the blood is separated. The product is expected to be launched in Europe this spring and in the United States early next year, although the Intercept product designed for red blood cells -- "[p]erhaps the most important" of the three products -- is not expected to come to the United States until late 2004 (Bennett, Wall Street Journal, 2/27).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.