Medical countermeasures may be weak link in U.S. biodefense

Medical countermeasure production must be enhanced if the U.S. wants to be prepared to respond to bioterrorism, according to an op-ed recently published in the Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

Christina England, a master's candidate in security policy at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy, said that the U.S. medical countermeasure enterprise is one of the weakest U.S. bioresponse capabilities. England said that while all seven U.S. bioresponse capabilities are essential to address man-made and natural outbreaks, current MCM stockpiles are inadequate for both large-scale attacks and attacks with novel or resistant pathogens.

"The medical countermeasure enterprise consisting of the development and distribution of MCMs is a significant liability in the U.S. bioresponse process," England said.

Through January 2013, the U.S. purchased eight MCMs for the Strategic National Stockpile from seven pharmaceutical companies. The MCMs address botulinum toxin, smallpox, anthrax and radiological threats. The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority predicts that it will procure 12 additional MCMs over the next 10 years, if current funding levels are maintained.

England said there are many diseases that still do not have a countermeasure available. Additionally, the U.S. government may not be able to dispense countermeasures to the public in a timely and orderly manner.

England suggests the U.S. makes improvements in the structure, priorities, funding, contracting, regulatory processes, timeliness, logistics and dispensation procedure related to its MCM program.

"By adopting measures that enhance the medical countermeasure production and distribution capabilities, thousands of lives could be saved in the case of a large-scale biological event," England said.