Sign of the times? US stocks up on Amgen's radiation sickness drug Nplate

In what could be a troubling sign of the times, the United States is stocking up on radiation sickness drugs.

Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said it’s throwing down $290 million to lock up an undisclosed amount of Amgen’s blood disorder med Nplate, which is approved to treat blood cell injuries linked to acute radiation syndrome (ARS) in kids and adults.

ARS, also known as radiation sickness, occurs when a person’s body is exposed to a high dose of penetrating radiation, which is capable of “reaching internal organs in a matter of seconds,” HHS explained in a release. ARS injuries can lead to symptoms such as impaired blood clotting from low platelet counts, which can trigger uncontrolled and potentially “life-threatening” bleeds.

The Amgen drug is otherwise approved for kids and adults with the blood disorder immune thrombocytopenia, which causes patients to suffer from low platelet counts.

HHS did not clarify its rationale behind the Nplate stock-up, though the move comes amid escalating tensions between Russia and Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin has recently invoked the threat of nuclear retaliation, painting the conflict as an existential feud between Russia and the West.

Experts are divided on whether Putin is bluffing, though Reuters reports the White House is taking the threats seriously. Meanwhile, neighboring countries to Ukraine such as Poland have reportedly been distributing iodine tablets in response to shelling around Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine, for which Russia and Ukraine blame each other.

Big West Coast Biotech Amgen developed Nplate in conjunction with the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), more recently known for its extensive deals with vaccine players at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The blood disorder med was also created with the help of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

For the new deal, BARDA is leveraging its power under 2004’s Project Bioshield act, as well as furnishing the $290 million in Project Bioshield funding to purchase the undisclosed Nplate supply.