Emergent BioSolutions, Inc., holds biosecurity meeting with NATO members

Members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Parliamentary Assembly met with the senior-leadership of Emergent Biosolutions, Inc., on July 12 to discuss the policies put in place to protect the country from a bioterrorism event or a pandemic illness.

The meeting, entitled "Bioterrorism Prevention, Preparedness and Response," was held outside on the top floor of the Willard Office Building overlooking the National Mall in downtown Washington, D.C.

The representatives from 19 NATO member countries were treated with a chance to discuss the complex issue of biosecurity with those on the front lines, including Representative Jo Ann Emerson of Missouri.

“This knowledge is not common to us,” Kadri Simson, a delegate from Estonia, said. “In Europe we just don’t have these resources. To know how the U.S. is prepared makes us think we have to do the same. If I were to rate it, I would give it a 10 out of 10.”

The attendees and their hosts listened to keynote speaker, Dr. Robert Kadlec, director of PTRM Biodefense and Public Health Practice and bioterror expert, speak extensively on the development of biodefense policy since the 1960’s, when it was declared, according to a U.S. government Assessment, that biological weapons possessed by hostile countries posed a strategic threat.

“We demonstrated, without a doubt, that these weapons have the strategic lethality of a nuclear weapon,” Kadlec said.

Kadlec’s assessment, which he described as “sobering,” continued up to the present day. There is a likelihood that biological weapons will be used somewhere in the world sometime in the next five years, Kadlec believes.

“That is a sobering estimate, but one that is well-founded,” Kadlec said. “It is not only based on the intents of our list of enemies, but also on the notion that, in today’s world, as happened in the U.S., disaffected people - biologists - could also conduct these attacks. Unlike a nuclear weapon that requires an extensive infrastructure and the availability of highly enriched uranium, biology lets an individual basically become a destroyer of worlds. As much as we are concerned about terrorists becoming biologists, we should be concerned about biologists becoming terrorists.”

Pandemics may only get harder to deal with, Kadlec noted, with global climate change contributing to the incidence of emerging infectious diseases. He used dengue fever as an example. One hundred years ago it was thought that dengue fever was gone from North America, but now, due to increasing temperatures, it can be found in Florida.

Kadlec described U.S. policy development on both biodefense and pandemic defense, especially since 9/11, as “imperfect incrementalism.”

“We never get it right the first time, and we, subsequently, incrementally, have to go back and revisit and improve things,” Kadlec said. “The rest is history in some respects. But, to note that in some ways, while we anticipated another attack, if you will, by biological agents, we were actually confronted with a pandemic. One, quite frankly, we were not prepared for.”

Our ill-preparedness with pandemic disease pointed to ill-preparedness in the face terrorism, according to Kadlec.

“There are hostile forces that will use these weapons against us,” he said. “There is now this urgency and the idea to merge the sources, and that today is where policy is moving.”

Kadlec referred to the similarities between the response to deliberate biothreats and pandemic diseases and the need to combine U.S. efforts to create a broad spectrum capability that is focused on speed and agility.

“The second presidential document that [Obama] signed out deals with countering or preventing these biological threats,” Kadlec said. “A number of initiatives that he has outlined, and specifically that he reaffirms, are the policies that were drafted by the previous administration. So there is a lot of coherence and consistency that Obama has stated and has already done so far.”

Dr. Tevi Troy, senior visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute and former deputy director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, asked where the Obama administration was regarding biodefense seven months after the State of the Union address when the President called for a review of policy. Kadlec responded that an announcement has been expected for the last several weeks.

 “The challenge is finalizing this through their process and, obviously, funding it, which has yet to be determined,” Kadlec said.