Duke Aims to Bolster Immunity After Radiation Exposure 

Researchers at Duke University School of Medicine have secured a contract from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) for up to $6 million to investigate a potential treatment for radiation-induced immune suppression in animal models.   

If proven effective for T-cell recovery after radiation and approved by the Food and Drug Administration, Duke researchers say the therapy could potentially help patients recover after radiation treatment for cancer or other medical uses. Higher doses of radiation can be deadly. Even low doses of radiation can deplete T-cells, weaken the immune system, and increase the risk of infection. 

In health care, radiation plays a crucial role in treating cancer, preparing for stem cell transplants, and imaging procedures. Being able to better manage its side effects through inducing T-cell recovery could provide a great benefit to patients.  

The investigated therapy could also help mitigate the effects of radiation exposure due to a nuclear accident or explosion. Since 9/11, concerns have grown about the potential of a terrorist strike using radiological weapons.  

The Duke research project is focused on a novel compound – a recombinant human IL-7 and immunoglobulin fusion protein (efineptakin alfa, NT-I7) – designed to promote the recovery of T-cells, a type of white blood cell in the immune system that protects the body from infection. 

The goal of the Duke project is to determine the efficacy of NT-I7 in treating acute radiation syndrome and expand the understanding of the merits for accelerating T-cell reconstitution after radiation exposure, especially its benefits on decreasing mortality and major infectious morbidities, supporting the development of the compound as a novel medical countermeasure. 

“T-cells take a long time to recover following radiation, and currently, there are no FDA-approved drugs to speed the process,” said Jun “Benny” Chen, MD, professor in the Duke Department of Medicine who will lead the project.  

This project is being conducted in partnership with NeoImmuneTech (NIT), the Maryland-based biotech company that designed efineptakin alfa, NT-I7. It is funded by NIAID under contract 75N93024C00005. 

The content of this announcement is solely the responsibility of Duke University School of Medicine and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.