• BioterrorismU.S. bioterrorism detection program unreliable: GAO

    DHS’s BioWatch program aims to provide early indication of an aerosolized biological weapon attack. Until April 2014, DHS pursued a next-generation autonomous detection technology (Gen-3), which aimed to enable collection and analysis of air samples in less than six hours, unlike the current system (Gen-2), which requires manual intervention and can take up to thirty-six hours to detect the presence of biological pathogens. A GAO report found that DHS lacks reliable information about BioWatch Gen-2’s technical capabilities to detect a biological attack, and therefore lacks the basis for informed cost-benefit decisions about upgrades to the system.

  • BiodefenseNanoparticle delivery maximizes drug defense against bioterrorism agent

    Scientists have developed a nanoparticle delivery system for the antibiotic moxifloxacin that vastly improves the drug’s effectiveness against pneumonic tularemia, a type of pneumonia caused by inhalation of the bacterium Francisella tularensis. The scientists show how the nanoparticle system targets the precise cells infected by the bacteria and maximizes the amount of drug delivered to those cells.

  • BiodefenseDoD awards $7.6 million to Pitt to develop therapies against biowarfare

    The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) has awarded a $7.6 million grant to a collaborative group of scientists in the University of Pittsburgh Center for Vaccine Research (CVR) for work which could lead to countermeasures against bioterrorism attacks. The contract is the latest in a successful run of federal funding for this group of investigators within Pitt’s CVR, which the DOD acknowledges has performed well.

  • BiodefenseCentralized leadership, major reform needed to bolster U.S. biodefense

    A comprehensive report on U.S. biodefense efforts calls for major reforms to strengthen America’s ability to confront intentionally introduced, accidentally released, and naturally occurring biological threats. The report details U.S. vulnerability to bioterrorism and deadly outbreaks and emphasizes the need to transform the way the U.S. government is organized to confront these threats. Recommendations include centralizing leadership in the Office of the Vice President; establishing a White House Biodefense Coordination Council; strengthening state, local, territorial, and tribal capabilities; and promoting innovation through sustained biodefense prioritization and funding.

  • PreparednessMissouri schools underprepared for pandemics, bioterrorism, natural disasters

    Pandemic preparedness is not only critical because of the threat of a future pandemic or an outbreak of an emerging infectious disease, but also because school preparedness for all types of disasters, including biological events, is mandated by the U.S. Department of Education. Missouri schools are no more prepared to respond to pandemics, natural disasters, and bioterrorism attacks than they were in 2011, according to a new study. Particular gaps were found in bioterrorism readiness — less than 10 percent of schools have a foodservice biosecurity plan and only 1.5 percent address the psychological needs that accompany a bioterrorism attack.

  • BiodefenseDHS S&T launches $100,000 prize competition to support NBAF facility

    DHS S&T announced the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) Think and Do Challenge, a prize competition that seeks ideas to leverage NBAF resources in order to conduct research to protect the nation’s animal agricultural industry and public health. S&T says that it will award up to $100,000 to help fund the development or implementation of winning submissions through the NBAF Think and Do Challenge, under the authority of the America COMPETES Act.

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  • BioterrorismHHS in strategic alliance to accelerate new antibiotic development

    Multiple drugs to combat bioterrorism threats and other life-threatening bacterial infections will be developed under a public-private partnership agreement between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (APSR) and AstraZeneca, a global biopharmaceutical company. The partnership will also stimulates pipeline of drugs to treat multi-drug resistant bacterial infections. CDC has estimated that in the U.S. antibiotic-resistant bacteria are responsible for two million infections and 23,000 deaths annually with an estimated annual economic burden of $35 billion on the healthcare system.

  • Synthetic biologyU.S. defense agencies dominate federal synthetic biology research

    A new analysis finds the Defense Department and its Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) fund much of the U.S. government’s research in synthetic biology, with less than 1 percent of total federal funding going to risk research. Between 2008 and 2014, the United States invested approximately $820 million dollars in synthetic biology research. In that time period, the Defense Department became a key funder of synthetic biology research. DARPA’s investments, for example, increased from near zero in 2010 to more than $100 million in 2014 — more than three times the amount spent by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

  • Biological weaponsThe history of biological weapons use

    Few comprehensive, definitive histories of biological warfare have been written, many events reported in the literature never happened, and few details are available about some uses of biological weapons which most certainly did occur. A new review of the literature on actual and alleged instances of biological warfare finds that the incidence of illicit biological agent use has been greater than many people may realize, even as the effects have been relatively limited.

  • BiolabsNew book details safety, security methods for biosciences sites

    Recent mishaps at laboratories which mishandled potentially dangerous biological substances and the transmission of the Ebola virus in a U.S. hospital are symptoms at bioscience facilities that two Sandia National Laboratories researchers think could be prevented by implementing the practices in a new book on biorisk management. The new book, Laboratory Biorisk Management: Biosafety and Biosecurity, is the first full-length manuscript on the detailed implementation of biorisk management.

  • AnthraxPfenex awarded contract valued at up to $143.5 million to develop anthrax vaccine

    San Diego, California-based Pfenex Inc. the other day announced it has signed a five year, cost plus fixed fee contract valued at up to $143.5 million with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), for the advanced development of Px563L, a mutant recombinant protective antigen anthrax vaccine. The company says the U.S. government is looking to have a stockpile of seventy-five million doses.

  • Biolabs cybersecurity Researchers carefully protect dangerous pathogens – but how secure are all their data?

    By Carole Baskin

    Ebola, smallpox, anthrax and many others: the most dangerous microorganisms are strictly regulated in the United States. The federal government oversees use of sixty-five so-called select agents with “the potential to pose a severe threat to public, animal or plant health, or to animal or plant products.” There has never been as much research performed with these pathogens —to learn more, find cures, or create vaccines — as in the past decade. The sprawl of high containment laboratories has led to a parallel increase in individuals with access to these agents. As of January 2015, approximately 11,000 individuals were on the list. The deadly infectious agents must be kept safely under lock and key, where they can’t threaten the general population or fall into the wrong hands. But even the most physically secure research lab could be the site of a devastating data security breach. As they stand now, information security guidelines published by science regulators with regard to select agents lack the critical level of detail needed to protect data effectively.

  • BiolabsCDC to review oversight of bioterror labs as concerns grow over lax supervision

    Tom Frieden, the director of the CDC, has ordered a review of how the agency oversees and implements safety and security measures in bioterror laboratories across the country. Documents obtained through FOIA request show that dozens of labs handling the most dangerous bioterror pathogens have time and again failed to comply with key safety and security measures, but CDC inspectors allowed these labs to operate for years before offering to put them on a “performance improvement” plan. Even when inspectors identified significant violations of safety or security practices in work with “Tier 1” select agents – the deadliest of bioterror weapons — the agency only “strongly recommend[ed]” the labs stop work with the pathogens, but without mandating it.

  • BioterrorismKosovo’s capital cuts water supplies for fear of ISIS plot to poison reservoir

    Kosovo security and health authorities have cut off water supplies to tens of thousands of residents in Pristina, Kosovo’s capital, following a suspicion that ISIS followers had poisoned the city’s water supplies. The city’s water board said supply was cut early on Saturday “because of security issues” and that supplies had been tested for suspicious substances. Police sources say that security officers patrolling the Badovac reservoir saw three of the men behaving suspiciously near the reservoir, and arrested them. They were later identified as ISIS supporters. Kosovar members of ISIS recently appeared in propaganda videos, warning of attacks against targets in the Balkans, including the water supplies of major cities.

  • BiolabsLawmakers demand answers on labs’ handling of deadly pathogens

    The leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee from both parties yesterday sent a letter to the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services demanding answers regarding the Federal Select Agent Program (FSAP). “Select agents” is the term used by the government for viruses, bacteria, and toxins that could be used by terrorists. The committee members directed ten questions to the HHS IG in an effort to learn details about labs that have been fined or faced other enforcement actions, including suspension or revocation of their federal authorizations to work with select agents. “So far we’ve been lucky, but that luck may run out if we don’t get the system fixed,” said Representative Frank Pallone Jr. (D-New Jersey).