Slow Going on Biodefense Drugs
In the fight against bioterror, bigger budgets have yet to produce significant biomedical products. In return for getting a sixfold budget boost for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) between 2002 and 2003 (from $270 million up to $1.75 billion), director Anthony S. Fauci set an ambitious goal. In an October 2002 speech, he said that in 10 years, his institute would produce a vaccine, a therapeutic drug and an adjuvant drug for each of some two dozen bioweapons diseases, such as plague and hemorrhagic fever. Many experts thought the target was unrealistic, and indeed six years later not one of those products has been commercially manufactured. One scientist who requested anonymity said that Fauci told him that the Bush administration had demanded this goal and that he accepted it to prevent the Department of Defense or the Department of Homeland Security from getting the job.
Nevertheless, Michael Kurilla, NIAID’s director of extramural research, says that “we’re much better off” having spent $41 billion on bioterror research since 2002. Kurilla points out that two important products are in the final stage of development. The U.S. signed a contract with Emergent BioSolutions this past September to manufacture a high-tech anthrax vaccine, after a small company named VaxGen spent years at the task but failed. By the end of 2008, the U.S. should start taking delivery on a next-generation, safer smallpox vaccine from Danish company Bavarian Nordic, he says. This vaccine might even be modifiable to prevent other infections, an approach preferable to the conventional “one bug, one drug” tactic.
Note: This story was originally published with the title, "After the Anthrax".