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30 September 2003

U.S. Biodefense Research Makes "Tremendous Progress"

Work accelerates on finding countermeasures to threats of bioterror

U.S. biomedical researchers are making great strides in an almost two-year-old effort to bolster the nation's defenses against bioterrorism. The National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) released a report September 29 documenting the progress achieved by a collaboration of government, academic and industrial researchers.

The report says that the initiative has resulted in significant steps toward developing vaccines and treatments for likely bioterror agents such as anthrax, smallpox and plague.

"The increased breadth and depth of biodefense research not only is helping us become better prepared to protect citizens against a deliberately introduced pathogen, it also is helping us tackle the continuous tide of naturally occurring emerging infections such as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and West Nile virus," says NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci.

NIAID began the effort to heighten the nation's defenses against bioterror in 2002 by convening an expert panel to consider the threats and the possible responses. The move came just months after a series of anthrax-laden letters had been sent to media outlets and political offices in the United States, ultimately killing five people. The perpetrator of that terrorist act has never been apprehended.

The report is available at http://www.niaid.nih.gov/biodefense/research/category_A_Progress_Report.pdf

Following is the text of the NIAID press release on the report.

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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services


NIH News

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) http://www.niaid.nih.gov/

September 29, 2003


Biomedical researchers in government, academia and industry have made tremendous progress working collaboratively towards developing countermeasures for bioterrorism, according to a report issued today on research funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), one of the National Institutes of Health.

The "NIAID Biodefense Research Agenda for CDC Category A Agents -- Progress Report" (http://www.niaid.nih.gov/biodefense/research/category_A_Pr ogress_Report.pdf) describes myriad steps the Institute has taken since February 2002 to catalyze the development of vaccines, treatments and diagnostics for the most threatening bioterror agents. It was in February 2002 that NIAID convened the first Blue Ribbon Panel on Bioterrorism and its Implications for Biomedical Research, which provided NIAID with objective expertise on the Institute's biodefense future research plans and helped identify the highest priority areas.

"NIAID has greatly expanded its network of industry and academic partners in biodefense, and together they have made tremendous strides in a very short time towards developing countermeasures to protect all Americans from bioterrorism," says Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson.

"The increased breadth and depth of biodefense research not only is helping us become better prepared to protect citizens against a deliberately introduced pathogen, it also is helping us tackle the continuous tide of naturally occurring emerging infections such as SARS and West Nile virus," says NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D.

The 37-page report covers progress on meeting the Blue Ribbon Panel's research recommendations and progress in research on so-called Category A pathogens. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Category A agents are those that cause diseases considered to pose the greatest risk to national security: anthrax, smallpox, plague, botulism, tularemia and viral hemorrhagic fevers.

The progress report outlines specific actions NIAID has taken to prepare bioterror countermeasures. For example, the Institute has developed more than 50 initiatives to stimulate biodefense research, three-quarters of which are brand new. Through these initiatives, NIAID has greatly expanded its support of investigators in academia and partnerships with industry. It has also created new biodefense resources, taken advantage of genomic research advances, and furthered understanding of how microbes cause disease and how the immune system responds to infection.

Highlights from the NIAID biodefense progress report include the following:

PARTNERSHIPS IN PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT -- In addition to awarding contracts for second-generation smallpox and anthrax vaccines, NIAID has expanded other collaborative opportunities with industry. For example, the NIAID Biodefense Partnerships program is a new mechanism by which the Institute encourages private-sector research and development of countermeasures. Through this program and a similar initiative that includes academia -- Cooperative Research for the Development of Vaccines, Adjuvants, Therapeutics, Immunotherapeutics and Diagnostics for Biodefense and SARS -- NIAID is funding 31 grants to companies to develop high-priority biodefense products. In addition to attracting more pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies to infectious disease research, these awards will likely shorten the time from preclinical testing to commercialization of products.

BASIC RESEARCH -- NIAID recently awarded eight Regional Centers of Excellence for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases Research. This nationwide network of multidisciplinary academic centers will conduct wide- ranging research on infectious diseases and the development of diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines. In addition, through partnerships with other agencies and companies around the world, NIAID has made a significant investment in sequencing pathogen genomes. Researchers have sequenced genomes representative of all bacteria considered bioterror threats, and are sequencing genomes for at least one strain of every potential viral and protozoal bioterror pathogen. Finally, dozens of grants made to individual investigators at academic institutions nationwide are opening new avenues for improving our ability to prevent, diagnose and treat diseases caused by potential agents of terrorism.

BIODEFENSE RESEARCH RESOURCES AND FACILITIES -- NIAID is funding the construction of new biosafety laboratories around the country to address the serious shortage of such facilities to safely conduct research on biodefense and emerging infectious diseases. It also has developed and expanded contracts to screen new drugs; develop new animal models; establish a reagent and specimen repository; and provide researchers with genomic, proteomic and bioinformatic resources.

IMMUNOLOGY -- NIAID is funding research to better understand the body's own protective mechanisms. In particular, one recent large-scale grant is funding sophisticated studies of the human innate immune system. Another new set of grants has established a network of researchers focused on studies of the human immune system and biodefense.

A complete description of NIAID's biodefense research program is available online at .

NIAID is a component of the National Institutes of Health, which is an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services. NIAID supports basic and applied research to prevent, diagnose and treat infectious and immune-mediated illnesses, including HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, illness from potential agents of bioterrorism, tuberculosis, malaria, autoimmune disorders, asthma and allergies.

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