Researcher proposes public-private partnership in war on terror

Jeffrey A. Romoff is the president and CEO of UPMC, the University of Pittsburgh
Medical Center, an $8 billion integrated global health enterprise with 50,000 employees. Romoff spoke to BioTerrorWatch about his plan to improve the nation's capacity to develop and manufacture countermeasures critical to national and homeland security.

BTW: What interest does UPMC have in the issue of bioterrorism?
JR: In 2003, we founded the Center for Biosecurity of UPMC, an independent, academic think tank dedicated to providing research, analysis, and policy solutions to address national and international biosecurity challenges. We have been at the table in a wide array of regional readiness efforts, and most recently have been conducting comprehensive analysis to assess the U.S. government's biodefense countermeasure requirements and the nation's infrastructure in place to meet those requirements.

BTW: You’ve recommmended departing from traditional paradigms to develop new and effective solutions. Can you elaborate?
JR: The central importance of countermeasures -- medicines and vaccines -- to U.S. biosecurity has been recognized. It is also recognized that the traditional platforms for developing solutions have not yielded the biologies, vaccines, and countermeasures that are required. It is not because the nation lacks great scientific knowledge or new ideas -- our universities are brimming with new leads and new directions, but they lack the ability to bring these great ideas to market. It is not for lack of superb pharmaceutical companies that have the top-level industry knowledge and experience to develop, license, and manufacture biodefense countermeasures.

BTW: Where does the problem lie?
JR: There is no commercial market for these products outside the government, there are substantial opportunity costs for these companies, and they have largely not seen the government as a predictable partner in this enterprise. As a consequence, the current U.S. approach to biodefense medicine and vaccine development relies almost completely on small biotech companies. These companies are innovative and focused, but few have demonstrated the capability to produce licensed vaccines or medicines, and few have in house the technical expertise and/or regulatory experience needed to do this work.

BTW: What do you see as the solution?
JR: A new public-private partnership, the mission of which would be to establish and run flexible, multiproduct medical countermeasure development and manufacturing facilities that would address these issues and challenges. This public-private partnership would make maximal use of flexible technologies that do not require building highly capital-intensive facilities. It would be capable of developing and manufacturing multiple products concurrently in different suites, using disposable technology that can easily be changed depending on the needs and requirements of the government. In time of national crisis, such as after a substantial bioattack on a U.S. city, all suites of the multiple-suite vaccine plant could be converted to the manufacture of a single drug, providing critical surge capacity not now available.

BTW: Is your proposal politically feasible?
JR: In the last year, there has been growing discussion in Washington about the vital importance of establishing new public-private partnerships to solve problems that neither the government nor the private sector can solve alone. My judgment is that countermeasure development and production is the archetype of such a problem.