DATE: July 30, 2004
Bob's Weekly Report: Confronting the Threat of Bioterrorism
September 11, 2001, and the subsequent anthrax attacks, reminded Americans of our vulnerability to threats not seriously considered before among them, bioterrorism. The anthrax attacks killed 5 Americans, virtually shut-down mail to the U.S. Congress for 6 weeks, put 10,000 people on antibiotics, and terrified countless more. While the anthrax was in fact relatively small in scale compared to the nature of potential attacks now envisioned by security experts, it did give us a glimpse of the terrible potential of bioterrorism. Unfortunately that which was once confined to the realm of science fiction, must now be considered a reality.
To address this very real threat, President Bush proposed "Project Bioshield," last year. The House quickly responded, and now that differences have been worked out between the House and Senate and President Bush has signed this important legislation into law, "Project Bioshield" is on the cusp of becoming a reality.
This initiative establishes a $5.6 billion fund to go towards a comprehensive effort to develop, manufacture and stockpile effective drugs and vaccines for use in the event of a biological attack.
"Project Bioshield" removes potential barriers to the development and production of new drugs. While there have been impressive developments in medical treatments of naturally occurring diseases, this has not been the case for bioterror attacks. Rather than scientific obstacles holding us back, a lack of funding and other incentives have. It is time for America's best and the brightest to focus their efforts on developing vaccines and antidotes .encouraging the "next generation" of treatment development by pharmaceutical companies despite the lack of a commercial market for these drugs.
Rather than the government attempting, at great cost, to duplicate the research efforts of a private sector field which is second to none, this legislation encourages private companies to work with the National Institutes of Health and other federal agencies to develop measures to protect against a diverse array of threats encompassing smallpox, Ebola, plague, anthrax and other biological agents.
It is important to remember that as we expand our biodefense research, the fruits of these efforts will not go to waste, even if we are never faced with a deliberate bioterror attack. With the emergence of AIDS, West Nile virus, SARS and other new or previously dormant diseases, this research will provide invaluable medical information.
In the absence of "Project Bioshield," experts have estimated that it could take 10 years, and cost up to $800 million or more, to bring just one new vaccine from development in clinical trials to market. This is inexcusable in the world in which we live, where at least eight nations are running bioweapons programs. If those weapons were to fall into the wrong hands, the outcome could be catastrophic. Bioterrorism is a real threat, and Congress and the Administration are acting to counter it.