Subcommittee recommends White House oversight for medical countermeasures

The Medical Countermeasures Markets and Sustainability Working Group, a subcommittee of the National Biodefense Science Board, has released a report calling for closer collaboration with private industry to improve the nation's medical defenses against biological, chemical, radiological and nuclear threats.

The report, titled "Optimizing Industrial Involvement with Medical Countermeasure Development," makes eight recommendations concerning innovative partnerships with industry, a need for more consistent funding to develop countermeasures and a call for more coordinated leadership.

"With adequate resources and effective leadership, the various agencies of the U.S. Government can work together and harness the expertise of the private sector in ways similar to those used to produce aircraft carriers, land men on the moon, and accomplish other 'Manhattan Projects,'" the report says.

Countermeasures have long been sought by the government, which has met with only limited success. The NBSB, which advises the Department of Health and Human Services on biodefense issues, had assigned the subcommittee the task of reporting on the policy, financial and regulatory issues that had limited the willingness of private industries to invest in the development of these countermeasures.

According to the report, industry officials cited the slow, unwieldy, expensive, and opaque," processes of contracting with the federal government as one of the main things slowing the process as well as a lack of coordination among federal agencies.

Another stumbling block is the fear that Congress will not appropriate adequate funding that would be sustained over several decades for discovery, development, trials and licensure of countermeasures.

To counter these problems, the plan recommends the use of a White House official to steer the countermeasures division or, as an alternative, to "designate one federal agency responsible for MCM development based on prioritized civilian and DoD [Department of Defense]–unique requirements and fund that agency adequately."