Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Fighting Bioterror

You can help strengthen the US bioterrorism defense.

The greatest obstacle to the development of bioweapon countermeasures in the US is the gap between the public funding available for basic science research, and late stage product development (of drugs, vaccines and devices) that industry typically performs. The Bioshield legislation Congress passed last year has been utterly inadequate in its task of supplying incentives for industry to take on the early stage product development necessary to produce the vaccines and medications the public needs for large scale public health responses.

After 9/11 the US made a dramatic change in biodefense strategy; it shifted responsibility for procurement from the Defense Department to the NIH, an agency not really designed for this function. That being said, NIH did an excellent job of developing a new anthrax vaccine, but for political reasons it will not be able to duplicate this role.

Therefore, we need to either find another government agency to do the job, or provide incentives for industry to take on early product development. That is what Bioshield II is designed to accomplish, and it seems well suited to the job, with a system of targeted grants to provide milestones of product development. Its strength is that it builds biodefense into routine public health, a strategy I've touted on this blog. But it also provides intellectual property and liability protections that are absolutely necessary for any industry investment in the field.

It will take a good deal of courage for senators to support this bill which could easily be made out by opponents to be handouts to rich pharmaceutical companies; I'm no big fan of Big Pharma but I believe it is necessary for public health for government to provide adequate incentives for them to develop products that private markets will not support. When the sales of Lipitor alone total $10 billion a year, the $5 billion yearly US market for all biodefense countermeasures combined just doesn't look appealing to a drug company.

Write your Senator or Representative and ask them to support Senators Lieberman, Hatch and Gregg in passing Bioshield II.


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