Countermeasure programs learn lessons from interagency group

A U.S. interagency group formed to further the development of filovirus countermeasures is making major progress through collaboration, and the government is taking notice, according to an agency representative.

In October, Ed Nuzum of the National Institutes of Health and Nicole Kilgore of the Department of Defense co-wrote an article detailing the collaborative successes made by the Filovirus Animal Non-Clinical Group. FANG is a U.S. interdepartmental and interagency group established to facilitate the development of medical countermeasures for filoviruses, such as Ebola and Marburg.

"We're trying to increase coordination and collaboration, minimizing redundant efforts," Nuzum said. "The coordination efforts are being done at the operational level. This is not a policy group, this is done by managers who can act on decisions that are made."

Kilgore, the deputy joint product manager for the Joint Vaccine Acquisition Program, and Nuzum, the chief of the vaccines and biologics product development section of the Office of Biodefense Research Affairs branch within the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, co-wrote the article, which was published in the journal Vaccines. They wrote that the personal relationships and mechanisms put in place with FANG allowed for productive collaborations and synergistic outcomes in the early-stage development of countermeasures.

Nuzum said that FANG's focus is on the early development of possible countermeasures against filovirus agents. The interagency group works on developing tools to evaluate which countermeasures are worth funding from the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense.

While FANG's efforts have yielded effective tools to evaluate what Nuzum refers to as immature therapeutics and vaccines, the group will not be able to take the early-stage products straight to market on its own.

"It's limited how far FANG can take the countermeasures," Nuzum said. "As a product becomes more developed, the relationship becomes more important between the product sponsor and the (U.S. Food and Drug Administration). It becomes more product specific and proprietary with more communication between the company and the FDA. But if we can coordinate efforts early on and help identify which products are the best and help with the selection processes of what should be advanced and what shouldn't, it helps to allocate government resources and make sure that funding is used on the most appropriate things."

Another roadblock for filovirus and other countermeasures is the potential lack of advanced funding if major budget cuts occur during the next few months.

"(Budget cuts affect us) indirectly in the long-term," Nuzum said. "Because if we find a product that is worth being developed and there isn't advanced funding, it can't be developed."

Whether or not FANG's efforts lead to viable countermeasures, the benefit of interagency collaboration has been recognized by other public health agencies. Nuzum said that there have been discussions of using the FANG model with other public health threats.

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