HHS official says government successful in developing bioweapon countermeasures

A top U.S. Department of Health and Human Services official recently told a House committee that the U.S. government’s efforts to develop medical countermeasures against biological weapons have been successful.

Dr. Nicole Lurie, the HHS assistant secretary for preparedness and response, said that there are currently more than 70 MCM products in development. Lurie spoke at a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, which focused, in part, on a bill to reauthorize portions of the Project Bioshield Act of 2004 and the Pandemic All-Hazards Preparedness Act of 2006, according to CIDRAP News.

Lurie said, in prepared testimony, that work by HHS’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, along with changes made after last year’s countermeasures review, are beginning to bear fruit.

"We have seen a continued growth in interest in companies partnering with BARDA, and now have over 70 products in some stage of development," Lurie said, CIDRAP News reports.

The 2006 preparedness law established BARDA and revived Project Bioshield. The review, conducted in 2010, was prompted mainly by the slow delivery of vaccine supplies during the influenza pandemic in 2009.

The MCM review recommended the establishment of a Concept Acceleration Program that would allow the National Institutes of Health, along with various partners, to speed the translation of promising scientific discoveries into usable products.

"We are committed to applying $50 million towards CAP activities in fiscal year 2011," Lurie said, CIDRAP News reports. "Evaluations are in progress to identify CAP product candidates."

Lurie supports the establishment of Strategic Investor, a private, not-for-profit corporation that has been designed to support companies that possess strategic technologies applicable to both government and private needs. According to Lurie, Strategic Investor would function somewhat like a venture capital firm.

The MCM review also recommended the creation of the Centers for Innovation in Advanced Development and Manufacturing. The CIADM would help increase the domestic manufacturing and surge capacity for countermeasures and could make influenza vaccine in case of emergencies.

Lurie told the committee that clarifications still needed to be made on issues relating to the emergency use of the Strategic National Stockpile. For example, Lurie said that the legal implications of using countermeasures covered by the Food and Drug Administration’s Shelf Life Extension Program are unclear.

The Obama administration, according to Lurie, is proposing to spend $765 million in Project Bioshield funds on anthrax vaccines and treatments, broad-spectrum antimicrobial drugs, and treatments and diagnostics for radiation sickness.

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