Concerns grow over bioterrorism

Recent concern about the growing threat of bioterrorism attacks that could strike cities throughout the world has led governments, militaries and the biopharmaceutical industry to a heightened state of alert.

Former senators Bob Graham and Jim Talent, of the U.S. Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction, Proliferation and Terrorism, have declared, “The threat of bioweapons being used by terrorists or rogue states has continued to worsen.”

In response to this threat, the United States is taking the lead in preparing its institutions for the potential danger outlined in the early part of 2010.

At the head of the struggle for preparedness is the biopharmaceutical industry, and behind the biopharmaceutical industry is the Biomedical Advanced Research Development Authority. BARDA is part of the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

BARDA’s job has been managing the development of U.S. strategy against bioweapons by awarding contracts and funding the research of critical biotech companies, like Emergent Biosolutions, Inc., who were granted $186.6 million in September of 2010 to develop a recombinant protective antigen anthrax vaccine.

The Emergent Biosolutions, Inc. project is for five years, beginning with a two-year base period to develop the final vaccine and take it though stability trials. The two year period is valued at $51 million, followed by three one-year option periods valued at $126 million. Funding for non-clinical studies is valued at $9 million.

Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius described the weakness the system faces by using the H1N1 pandemic as a reference point.

"As quickly as we acted on H1N1, there was one fundamental problem we couldn't overcome: we were fighting the 2009 H1N1 flu with vaccine technology from the 1950s,” Sebelius said, according to “We could race to begin vaccine production but there was nothing we could do if the virus grew slowly in eggs. We could make deals with foreign vaccine producers ahead of time, but we wouldn't have as much control over that vaccine as we have with companies based in the US."

The HHS strategy intends to support the development of countermeasures for conditions as varied as Ebola and radiation poisoning. They are seeking innovative ways to deal with biological threats.