DoD bioterror countermeasures effort to be dismantled

A $1.5 billion U.S. Department of Defense effort aimed accelerating the development of countermeasures in the case of a bioterror attack is being dismantled after five years.

The Transformational Medical Technologies initiative, created in 2006 and made into a permanent project in 2009, has ceased to exist as a stand-alone project, according to Nature.

The TMT was originally conceived to sequence the genomes of potential bioterror agents, investigate new drug technologies and develop therapies that could be effective against multiple bacterial and viral pathogens, including hemorrhagic fever viruses like Marburg and Ebola.

Supporters of the program said that three drugs been developed through the program, including one for Ebola, and are currently in clinical trials, Nature reports.

Alan Rudolph, the director of chemical and biological technologies for the DOD’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency, is consolidating some of the TMT projects into other efforts and generally reordering the Pentagon’s priorities.

The program’s critics point out that it has failed in its major objective to provide a faster, more efficient means to enhance biodefense efforts. None of the antibiotics developed under the program have reached clinical trials since the program’s creation and the drug candidates it has developed are all for single pathogens, not the multiple threats previously envisioned.

A major clinical trial contract is to be awarded later this year under the TMT, but it is for a drug to treat influenza, a disease researched heavily outside of the Pentagon’s auspices.

Michael Osterholm, who works with the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, is a critic of the program. He said it was ill-conceived and over-ambitious.

"They're wasting tons of money," Osterholm said, Nature reports.

"The TMT from its inception was a high-risk, high-payoff or high-failure effort," David Hough said, according to Nature.

Hough, who became project manager for the TMT in 2007, said that the effort has paid dividends.

"If we get an engineered threat or something that we haven't seen before that is causing a lot of deaths, we think we can respond to that,” Hough said, Nature reports.

Rudolph, in the meantime, has held onto some TMT projects, including pathogen-sequencing studies by Ian Lipkin of Columbia University. He has cut others, including a five year, $24.7 million contract awarded to Peregrine Pharmaceuticals to find hemorrhagic fever antibodies.

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