• BiodefenseBiodefense Panel welcomes key provision in defense authorization bill

    In October 2015, the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense found that insufficient federal coordination on strategy, budgeting, and policy; inadequate collaboration with other levels of government and the private sector; and lagging innovation in areas like biosurveillance and medical countermeasure development make the United States vulnerable to biological attacks and infectious disease outbreaks. The Panel welcomed the passing by the House of the National Defense Authorization Act, H.R. 4909, which includes a provision addressing one of the Panel’s most important recommendations.

  • AnthraxDeveloping new anthrax vaccine

    The Texas A&M Center for Innovation in Advanced Development and Manufacturing (CIADM) will produce an intranasal anthrax vaccine candidate under a task order issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). This is the first task order issued to the Texas A&M center and will enhance protection from anthrax disease. The Texas A&M facility is one of three CIADMs — and the only academically-based center — established as public-private partnerships with BARDA in 2012 to enhance the nation’s emergency preparedness against emerging infectious diseases.

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  • BioterrorismAirflow study to be conducted in NYC Subway

    The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) will conduct a week-long airflow study in portions of the New York City (NYC) subway system to gather data on the behavior of airborne particles in the event contaminants were released. This study poses no risk to the general public and will run from 9 to 13 May.

  • BioterrorismNew Yorker sentenced to 16 years for trying to buy ricin

    It was a scary scenario: Chinese national Cheng Le, living in New York City, attempted to order ricin through the so-called dark Web. Ricin is a highly potent and potentially fatal toxin with no known antidote. What did Le plan to do with the ricin? Nothing good. According to U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara, “In Le’s own words, established at trial, he was looking for ‘simple and easy death pills’ and ways to commit ‘100 percent risk-free’ murder.”

  • BiosurveillanceCloud-based biosurveillance ecosystem

    The Departments of Defense and Homeland Security are developing a system which lets epidemiologists scan the planet for anomalies in human and animal disease prevalence, warn of coming pandemics, and protect soldiers and others worldwide.

  • Health emergenciesSharing of research data, findings should be the norm in public health emergencies

    Opting in to data sharing should be the default practice during public health emergencies, such as the recent Ebola epidemic, and barriers to sharing data and findings should be removed to ensure those responding to the emergency have the best available evidence at hand, experts say.

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  • Synthetic biology“Kill switches” shut down engineered bacteria

    By Helen Knight

    Many research teams are developing genetically modified bacteria that could one day travel around parts of the human body, diagnosing and even treating infection. Before such bacteria can be safely let loose, however, scientists will need to find a way to prevent them from escaping into the wider environment, where they might grow and cause harm. To this end, researchers have developed safeguards in the form of two so-called “kill switches,” which can cause the synthetic bacteria to die without the presence of certain chemicals. This synthetic biology technique could make it safer to put engineered microbes to work outside the lab.

  • 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.

  • 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).