University of Maryland School of Medicine to Participate in Expanded Medical Countermeasures Research Project

(Released 15 January 2016) University of Maryland School of Medicine (UM SOM) Department of Radiation Oncology Chair and Professor William F. Regine, MD, FACR, FACRO, and UM SOM Dean E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA, announced today that researchers at the UM SOM have been selected as key contractors by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), for its Radiation Nuclear Animal Model Development program. BARDA is part of the Office of the Secretary for Preparedness and Response in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

Under the leadership of Zeljko Vujaskovic, MD, PhD, Professor of Radiation Oncology and Director of the Department’s Division of Translational Radiation Science (DTRS), UM SOM researchers will work with BARDA to support the development of radiologic and nuclear countermeasures. This Indefinite Delivery/ Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract (HHSO100201500009I) is part of a broader effort to enhance national preparedness for radiation accidents and emergencies.

“Our Division is in a unique position to lead in medical countermeasures research,” said Dr. Vujaskovic. “We have extensive experience with experimental models, 30,000 square feet of dedicated space for radiation research, and collaborative expertise from across the broadest spectrum of countermeasure investigations, which allow us to rapidly configure and implement solutions-oriented approaches to even the most difficult challenges.”

DTRS was launched in 2012, when Dr. Vujaskovic joined UM SOM from Duke University. He is an internationally recognized physician scientist whose work over the last three decades has focused on elucidating the mechanisms associated with radiation normal tissue injury,entifying potential biomarkers predicting individual risk for injury, and developing novel therapeutic interventions/strategies to prevent, mitigate, or treat radiation injury.

DTRS already partners with government, pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical device entities on a range of medical and radiation oncology, radiation biology/physics,and biodefense projects. Earlier in 2015, research by DTRS faculty and staff led to FDA approval of the first drug to treat the deleterious effects of radiation exposure following a nuclear incident based on efficacy data generated in animal models. Animal models are especially important in preparing for radiation emergencies, because the efficacy of most experimental treatments cannot be tested in humans. The GLP (Good Laboratory Practice)-compliant testing facility within DTRS has expertise with different experimental models, along with one of the nation’s most well equipped suites of technologies supporting radiation research. The work with BARDA will include multiple individual projects that draw on changing configurations of DTRS experts, instrumentation, and specialized resources, as well as on collaborations with other UM SOM and University of Maryland, Baltimore investigators.

According to Dr. Regine, medical countermeasure studies have the potential to provide knowledge that can improve treatment of patients undergoing radiation treatment for a variety of cancers. “Our strong and well-integrated bench-to-bedside continuum within the Department of Radiation Oncology allows us to move new insights into the biology of radiation injury and recovery very quickly to clinical applications for patients undergoing therapy for cancer treatment,” said Dr. Regine, who also holds the Isadore & Fannie Schneider Foxman Endowed Professorship. “We are honored to have Dr. Vujaskovic and his team work with BARDA in this effort. The agency understands that discoveries that are crucial in meeting radiation emergencies can also have extraordinary potential for later development in routine clinical use.”  He noted that 60 percent of all diagnosed cancer patients receive radiation therapy as part of their treatment.

Over the past 40 years, the UM SOM’s Department of Radiation Oncology has been a leader in conducting large-scale research in radiation science, and in many ways has helped define the field.  Now, the Division of Translational Radiation Sciences is building on that foundation, by continuing to conduct both small and large animal efficacy studies and further developing the capability to use a range of supportive care – from minimal population-based to individual, ICU-type care.

“We are very excited to continue this critical research with BARDA,” said Dean E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA, who is also Vice President of Medical Affairs, the University of Maryland and the John Z. and Akiko Bowers Distinguished Professor at UM SOM. “In particular, our ability to utilize our GLP-testing facility for medical countermeasures, oncology drugs based on tumor models and normal tissue complications from radiation treatment makes us a true leader in the field of translational radiation science.”

Task Orders awarded under the contract will be funded in whole or in part with Federal funds from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, under Contract No. HHSO100201500009I.

About the University of Maryland School of Medicine The University of Maryland School of Medicine was chartered in 1807 and is the first public medical school in the United States, continuing today as an innovative leader in accelerating innovation and discovery in medicine. The School of Medicine is the founding school of the University of Maryland and is an integral part of the 11-campus University System of Maryland. Located on the University of Maryland’s Baltimore campus, the School of Medicine works closely with the University of Maryland Medical Center and Medical System to provide a research-intensive, academic, and clinically-based education. With 43 academic departments, centers, and institutes and a faculty of more than 3,000 physicians and research scientists plus more than $400 million in extramural funding, the School is regarded as one of the leading biomedical research institutions in the U.S., with top-tier faculty and programs in cancer, brain science, surgery and transplantation, trauma and emergency medicine, vaccine development, and human genomics, among other centers of excellence. The School is not only concerned with the health of the citizens of Maryland and the nation but also has a global presence, with research and treatment facilities in more than 35 countries around the world. http://medschool.umaryland.edu/

About the Division of Translational Radiation Sciences The Division of Translational Radiation Sciences (DTRS), a part of the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, was established to accelerate the discovery and clinical implementation of new therapeutic strategies to improve tumor response in clinical radiotherapy, minimize post-radiation therapy complications, and mitigate/treat the life-threatening health effects of a radioactive or nuclear agent brought on by a nuclear/terrorist incident. DTRS offers a multidisciplinary approach to address the knowledge gaps in radiation oncology, biology, and physics to facilitate discovery and innovation. This is accomplished through building on the experience and multidisciplinary expertise of our faculty members within the Division. The Division provides a comprehensive set of services to the U.S. government, pharmaceutical,  biotechnology, and medical device companies in the areas of medical and radiation oncology, radiation biology/physics, and biodefense.