House holds oversight hearing on the Public Health Emergency Medical Countermeasure Enterprise

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies heard testimony from scientific advisors on Thursday during an oversight hearing on Thursday on the Public Health Emergency Medical Countermeasure Enterprise (PHEMCE).

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said the purpose of the hearing was for the subcommittee to evaluate U.S. efforts to become more prepared for disease outbreaks through the development of better drugs and vaccines. She said that while there have been some successes from the government's efforts at vaccine development in the last decade, the U.S. must evaluate if the money is being spent effectively.

"I think there are serious questions as to whether the vast resources that are dedicated to these programs are being spent in the most efficient manner to protect the public health," DeLauro said. "For example, we find ourselves 10 years into the BioShield program, having spent a whopping $3.1 billion, and we have to look at what have to show for that."

George Korch, Jr., the senior science advisor to the assistant secretary for preparedness and response, testified on how PHEMCE protects the American people. PHEMCE is the federal coordinating body that oversees management of medical countermeasures that protect against biological, chemical, radiological or nuclear threats.

"Over the last 10 years, we've seen major returns on investment," Korch said. "We produced and procured innovative medical countermeasures that will allow our nation to better respond to medical and public health emergencies ultimately saving lives and mitigating illness. This progress comes as a result of the support of the current and previous administrations, the Congress and this subcommittee."

Robin Robinson, the director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, said that BARDA has established a robust and formidable product development pipeline of more than 150 product candidates and procured 12 novel products under Project BioShield. The products include antiviral drugs, smallpox vaccines, antitoxins and anthrax vaccines.

Assistant Commissioner of Counterterrorism Policy with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Luciana Borio also thanked Congress on behalf of the Americans who may someday need new medical products to address CBRN threats.

"I want to conclude by emphasizing that developing countermeasures is highly complex," Borio said. "Close cooperation is essential and the deep engagement represented here today exemplifies public health synergy at its best. While we collectively achieve on behalf of the American public is far greater than the sum of our parts and thank you for making this possible."

Other speakers during the hearing included Greg Burel, the acting deputy director of the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Michael Kurilla, the director of the Office of Biodefense Research Resources and Translational Research at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.