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Filtering Out Bioterrorism


Aethlon Medical touts blood purifier that knocks out deadly viruses.
By Rachel Barron

Aethlon Medical hopes to be ready if and when bioterrorists strike with deadly diseases such as smallpox, Ebola, and Marburg virus.

The San Diego-based company has developed a special filter that it claims can help clear a patient’s blood of deadly pathogens that cause some of the world’s most feared infectious diseases. Aethlon’s “hemopurifier,” which is attached to a portable blood pump or a dialysis machine, is designed to separate and capture viruses and toxins in the bloodstream. That would allow a patient’s immune system to recover enough to battle the pathogens, said Jim Joyce, Aethlon’s CEO.

“The treatment is to augment the natural immune response of clearing viruses and toxins before vital organs can be infected,” he said.

But Aethlon has yet to prove its device works as advertised. The tiny company last week asked the U.S. government for permission to start human trials to evaluate the safety and efficacy of its hemopurifier, the only device yet developed to treat bioterror threats.

Most companies targeting deadly viruses and toxins are drug and vaccine developers such as Brisbane, California-based VaxGen. It was among the first to snag a contract, worth $877 million, from the U.S. government’s BioShield program in 2004 to develop an anthrax vaccine. The government pulled the plug on that project in December after the company failed to meet expectations.

Aethlon expects by the end of 2008 to get approval to use the device against smallpox, Marburg virus, Ebola, or Dengue fever. The bulletin-board-traded company has yet to estimate the price of its filter.

Aethlon inherited the technology in 1999 when it forked over $6 million to buy Buffalo, New York-based Hemex. The technology was originally developed to remove harmful metals from the blood stream. In 2000, Aethlon changed directions and has spent $11 million to develop the technology to treat infectious diseases.

Aethlon also thinks the technology could help doctors treat chronic infectious diseases like Hepatitis C and HIV.