Survival Technology Inc. of Bethesda and Genentech Inc. have agreed to conduct joint research on a genetically engineered medication that heart attack victims might be able to inject during an attack while waiting for help to arrive.

Genentech has developed a method of producing the drug, called human-tissue-type plasminogen activator, or t-PA, a naturally occurring substance that is known to dissolve blood clots. T-PA occurs in small quantities in the body, but the South San Francisco biotech firm can produce commercial quantities through gene splicing.

Survival Technology manufactures automatic syringes that can be used by patients to administer drugs and operates a heart-monitoring system designed to assist patients in self-treatment.

The two companies will study whether Survival's devices and system could be used by heart attack victims to inject t-PA, thus reducing the risk of death and tissue damage during an attack.

About one-fourth of the 1.5 million Americans who suffer cardiac arrest each year die before they receive hospital care, according to the American Heart Association.

T-PA has not been approved for commercial use and is undergoing clinical trials to determine its effectiveness in dissolving blood clots in the coronary arteries. The joint research project will focus on the use of Survival's devices to deliver the drug -- not on the drug's medical effectiveness.

The National Institutes of Health is testing the drug's effectiveness and is scheduled to present its findings Thursday at the American College of Cardiology's meeting in Anaheim, Calif., a Genentech spokeswoman said.

Currently, the biggest customer of Survival's automatic syringes is the Department of Defense, which buys them for use in the event of chemical warfare. Soldiers would use the syringes to inject themselves with antidotes to nerve gas.

About 70 percent of Survival's revenue comes from DOD contracts, and the company is "trying to expand its sales base" through exploring the commercial applications of its technology, said Sharon A. Santa, corporate treasurer.

Because of DOD's delay in awarding new supply contracts last year, Survival reported a loss of $1.9 million for its first quarter ended Oct. 31. After winning two contracts in the second quarter ended Jan. 31, the company reported a profit of $167,900 on sales of $6.6 million.

The company uses a commercial version of its automatic syringe, called the LidoPen, as part of a heart-monitoring system for potential heart attack victims.

Cardiologists can enroll their patients in the program, and the patients are issued a CardioBeeper and a LidoPen. If the patient suffers serious chest pains, the CardioBeeper measures heart rhythms and can transmit an electrocardiogram through a normal telephone to the company's receiving station.

Nurses and cardiovascular technicians at the station read the electrocardiogram and respond according to the prior instructions of the patient's physician. The patient may be directed to use the LidoPen to administer an injection of Lidocaine, which is used to stabilize irregular heart rhythms.