Former Sens. Graham and Talent criticize BioShield cuts

Former senators Bob Graham and Jim Talent criticized potential cuts to the BioShield Strategic Reserve Fund in an open letter on August 3.

On July 7, the House of Representatives voted to cut $2 billion from the BioShield SRF to support adding $10 billion to the budget to avoid teacher layoffs. The White House remained silent on the issue. The Senate did not pass the House version of the bill, but the issue is far from resolved.

The BioShield SRF, which was established in 2004, is to be used to guarantee payments to the private sector for the production of medical countermeasures, primarily vaccines and therapeutics, in the case of a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear attack.

“There are few incentives for the private sector to invest hundreds of millions of dollars for these important medical countermeasures,” the senators wrote in their letter, which was published in the Washington Post. “The only customer is the U.S. government.

“If companies spend huge sums on research and development and obtain Food and Drug Administration approval for one vaccine or drug, they need to know that funds will be available for acquisition. That is the only incentive currently provided, but it may soon go away - taking with it the most critical element in our response chain.”

Graham and Talent are intimately acquainted with the U.S. government’s potential response in the event of an attack by CBRN weapons. They served as chair and co-chair of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism. The commission directly predicted that unless the world acts decisively, weapons of mass destruction will be used in an attack by 2013, and that a biological attack was more likely than a nuclear one.