Army, Industry Partner to Test Burn Treatment (UPDATED)

By Allyson Versprille
Biotechnology company Amarantus BioScience Holdings is partnering with the U.S. Army to advance clinical testing for a product to treat severe burns.

The company announced in August that it had signed a cooperative research-and-development agreement with the Army Institute of Surgical Research and Rutgers University to expand development of its skin replacement product — known as engineered skin substitute (ESS) — for victims with deep partial and full-thickness burns.

“It’s important for the military to get access to a product like this because the military is putting its soldiers in harm’s way,” said Gerald Commissiong, president and CEO of Amarantus. The Army has indicated that this is a top priority for them, he added.

In the long term the company wants to make ESS available for victims following large-scale disasters, he said, pointing to recent chemical explosions in China that killed more than 120 people and injured over 700.

“That is also quite important from a national security perspective,” Commissiong said. The biomedical advanced research and development authority within the Department of Health and Human Services is “highly interested in a terrorist preparedness plan” to assist in the event of a mass incident where burn victims would need to be treated, he said.

Unlike current procedures, ESS uses a patient’s own skin to replace areas affected by a burn, Commissiong said. A small biopsy of the victim’s skin is obtained and sent to a lab where the cells are combined with fibroblasts — which secrete important structural proteins — fed onto a matrix and then cultured in vitro before being placed back on the patient. By using the burn victim’s own skin, rejection of the skin graft, which is a common immune response, would not occur, Commissiong said.

ESS provides permanent wound closure and is “full thickness” — containing the dermal and epidermal layers of a patient’s skin. The treatment has the potential to significantly reduce scarring and would allow the skin to grow with the victim, which are problems associated with the current permanent solution, known as a meshed split-thickness autograft, he said.
ESS could also significantly reduce the time patients have to be hospitalized as well as the associated costs, he added. “You can realistically be out of the hospital in 60 to 90 days as opposed to nine months to a year in the case of a very severe burn.”

The company believes it can bring the cost of treatment down to $1 million. Current average costs for a burn victim total about $1.6 million. Complications can increase that average to $10 million, Commissiong said.

As part of Amarantus’ agreement with the Army, the service will allow its soldiers to enroll in clinical studies testing the skin substitute. Phase two of these trials is expected to commence in the third quarter of 2015, according to a company press release.

Correction: A previous version of this story had a misspelling in the first mention of Amarantus BioScience Holdings.

Topics: Health Affairs, Combat Medicine

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