IOM Report Recommends New Federal Research Agency on Treatments for Bioterrorist Agents
Efforts by the Department of Defense to research and develop vaccines and treatments to bioterrorist agents are underfunded, disjointed and have "dismal prospects for successful results," according to a report by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council, the Washington Post reports. The report, commissioned by Congress and led by Leslie Benet, professor of biopharmaceutical sciences at the University of California-San Francisco, notes that the agency has not developed any new treatments since the Gulf War in 1991. The Pentagon has licensed vaccines for anthrax and smallpox, but none "are available against botulism, plague, tularemia or the viral hemorrhagic fevers, although vaccines against all of these are under development," the report states. "Despite nominally centralized oversight of the Chemical and Biological Defense Program within the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the DoD effort is in practice fragmented among multiple chains of command and burdened by organizational complexity ... DoD leaders lack an adequate grasp of the commitment, time, scientific expertise, and financial resources required for success in developing vaccines and other pharmaceutical products," the report states.
Because of bioengineering advances that could possibly lead to new biological warfare agents, the report states that a new Medical Biodefense Agency within the Defense Department is "urgently needed," the Post reports. Existing programs should be consolidated in the new agency, which would be directed by "a single, highly knowledgeable leader who reports to a senior (Defense) policy official," the report states. It recommends that funding should increase by an initial $100 million per year, up to a total of more than $600 million per year by 2010. If the "status quo" continues in this area, it "assures a long, costly and perhaps fruitless wait for new vaccines and therapeutic products," the report states (Loeb, Washington Post, 1/23). The report is available online.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.