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AAAS Co-sponsors Biodefense Research Talks
Following the horrors of September 11, 2001, the U.S. government has vastly ramped up efforts to protect the country from future acts of terrorism. One threat that has received a significant amount of attention is that posed by harmful biological agents. Earlier this week, high-level officials from various government and public agencies met in Washington to discuss the future of U.S. defense against biological and chemical attacks.
"Biodefense research at the Department of Homeland Security in fiscal year 2004 will be heavily development-oriented because of the recognition that the U.S. is vulnerable," said Kei Koizumi, Director of AAAS's R&D Budget and Policy Program. "There will be a need to get technology into the hands of the first responders as soon as possible. Basic research in biodefense, on the other hand, will continue to receive major investments from the National Institutes of Health, particularly its National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)."
Among the key government officials at the 12 November eventthe Federal Biodefense Research Conferencewere John Marburger, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).
In his keynote address, Marburger detailed the desired outcome of the funding allocated for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Division, including a project called BioShield, to which President Bush referred in his State of the Union Address in February of this year.
The main purpose of Project BioShield is to spur the development and procurement of next-generation medical bio-measures such as vaccines. The legislation also authorizes NIH to facilitate promising research countermeasures and the emergency use of medical therapeutics.
With funding close to $6 Billion for the next ten years, BioShield has the potential to boost the pharmaceutical industry by encouraging the development of viable biological countermeasures, but also by promising to purchase the products for the national stockpile.
"It guarantees a market," said Marburger.
Anthony Fauci also said that NIH is committed to using R&D funding for counter measures against harmful bio-agents. A long-term plan is to develop universal antibiotics and vaccines against "all classes of biological pathogens." He also cited the importance of developing new platforms that can be used to quickly develop vaccines against emerging threats. One possible area of research, for example, could lead to injecting West Nile virus genes into dengue fever vaccines.
Another promising resource lies in the field of microbial genomics, Fauci said. As the costs of genome sequencing decrease and scientists continue to make technological breakthroughs, "We can sequence all of the pathogens we are concerned about," Fauci explained.
As a backdrop to the discussion of how the government is allocating funds for counter-terrorism, Koizumi provided a preview of the 2004 Federal budget, which he based on preliminary numbers. (The Senate has yet to confirm the final budget.) For thirty years, AAAS has analyzed Federal investment in research and development, but Koizumi noted that increased interest in the new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and biodefense has attracted a larger audience for his analyses.
Koizumi predicted that the 2004 R&D budget should hit an all-time high at $126 Billion. However, the increases would just go to three agencies: the Department of Defense (DOD), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The composition of the funding in 2004 will be different from last year's since more would be devoted to research, rather than to initial start-up costs, such as those associated with the creation of the DHS.
In addition to Bioshield, two other counter-terrorism projects are under development at DHS. Biowatch will be a cooperative effort between the DHS, the EPA and the CDC. Its aim will be to provide an early warning system for detection of potentially hazardous bio-agents by using atmospheric samples in different cities around the country. In the case of positive detection, the DHS could then respond with pharmaceuticals from the national stockpile, for instance. Biosense is a project that is still in its infancy. Its purpose is to reduce the time-lag between the release of a bioagent and the time it takes officials to respond. Biosense relies upon multiple streams of information such as pharmacies from across the nation.
In its second year, the Federal Biodefense Research conference also drew representatives from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Department of Defense (DOD), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), DARPA, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Department of Agriculture (USDA). It was co-sponsored by AAAS, Research America and the American Academy of Pharmaceutical Physicians (AAPA).
14 November 2003