Donating platelets to help people who have undergone chemotherapy or radiation treatment to restore their blood-clotting capabilities can be done rather simply in the civilian world.
But for a severely wounded soldier on the battlefield, the speedy delivery of potentially life-saving platelets is unlikely.
Platelets are collected via a complicated mechanical process, and unlike whole blood, must be used within five days of donation.
Universal Preservation Technologies Inc. (UPT), a developer of stabilization technologies for the preservation of biological and pharmaceutical materials, hopes to raise platelets’ shelf life from days to several months.
The privately held San Diego-based biotechnology firm announced April 10 the Office of Naval Research awarded it an $844,000 research grant to develop a powdered form platelet.
“The idea is if you dry it (platelets), take it in a powder form and carry it to the front line you can use it immediately on a soldier,” said Paulo Rangel, director of marketing at UPT.
The Navy grant marks UPT’s second major financial injection by and for the military.
Six months ago, UPT received a $1.8 million grant from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to preserve mammalian cells for therapeutic use.
Benefits Both Parties
Rangel said it includes stem cells, which in case of radiation fallout, would be needed to restore bone marrow; and B-cells, which can be used to measure the presence of disease-causing agents, such as weapon-dispersed anthrax spores.
Rangel finds the military grants beneficial for both parties.
Oaktree Capital Management LLC, an institutional investment firm in Los Angeles, made an undisclosed investment in UPT, Rangel said.
The military grants , next to funds provided by Oaktree Management and private investors , enable UPT to further develop its VitriLife technology for military and commercial use, Rangel said.
Rangel is optimistic UPT’s VitriLife technology will be on the cutting-edge of preservation, replacing traditional freeze-drying methods.
VitriLife is more cost-effective than freeze-drying, he said. According to Rangel, products remain stable longer at room temperature, reconstitute to its original state faster, and can’t be harmed by ice formation.
A material to be preserved is mixed in a solution with a protectant, such as a sugar or sugar alcohol. To extract water, the material is then boiled under a vacuum at low temperature, but above the freezing point.
The thickened material forms into a foam. More water is removed until the material becomes stable enough to be stored at a desired temperature, Rangel said.
“The foam is brittle, like a glass, and can be easily milled into a powder,” Rangel said.
UPT is in the final stages of developing its first commercial product to be launched in 2001 , a powdered bacterium that helps maintain a healthy digestive tract.
The bacterium would be sold to food makers as an additive or as a separate supplement through distribution partners, he said.
Rangel said uses for preserved materials are plentiful, from scientists looking to stabilize proteins in the laboratory, to veterinarians carrying vaccines to distant places, and military personnel needing to store and transport life-saving mammalian cells under ambient temperatures.
Under UPT’s business model, Rangel said, revenues will be generated in several ways: Product sales to neutraceutical firms that make foods with a pharmacological benefit will be UPT’s first source of income.
Royalties for preserving existing and new pharmaceutical drugs, vaccines and diagnostics will be another form of revenue.
Thirdly, UPT plans to sell its proprietary equipment to pharmaceutical firms and other businesses.
Rangel said UPT also plans to make money by modifying freeze-dryers to accommodate the VitriLife process at existing businesses.
Freeze-dryers cost between $1 million and $3 million, he said.
UPT counts freeze-drying companies, such as Albany, Ore.-based Oregon Freeze Dry, Inc., among its chief rivals.
Herbert Aschkenasy, president of Oregon Freeze Dry, however, isn’t worried about the new technology.
Aschkenasy, who hadn’t heard of UPT and its technology, said freeze-drying has been proven effective since the 1960s.
It has worked in preserving upwards of 400 foods, vaccines, enzymes and other products, he said.
“We once rehydrated a 23-year-old beef stew military ration for a group of military officers, all of whom found the meat to be palatable,” Aschkenasy said in a company statement.
“How do they (UPT) know it’ll last longer than freeze-drying?” he said.