Bioterrorism

  • BioterrorismGenetic safety switches curb bioterror risk

    The potential threat of bioterrorism using man-made biological organisms could be curbed, thanks to a new method. Synthetic biologists — who can design and modify the DNA of living organisms to give them novel, useful functions — have devised a way of containing their products to help ensure that they work only as intended.

  • Bioterror agentsA combination ricin/anthrax vaccine shows promise

    Soligenix, Inc. last month announced the publication of data demonstrating that the combination of RiVax and VeloThrax induces protective immunity to both ricin toxin and anthrax toxin exposure. RiVax is the company’s candidate vaccine for the prevention of exposure to ricin toxin using an antigen which is completely devoid of the toxic activity of ricin. VeloThrax is the company’s candidate vaccine which employs a derivative of recombinant protective antigen, termed Dominant Negative Inhibitor (DNI), which is a candidate for inclusion in a next generation anthrax vaccine.

  • BiotechnologyFUJIFILM completes acquisition of Kalon Biotherapeutics

    Morrisville, North Carolina-based FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies U.S.A. Inc. (FDBU), a FUJIFILM Corporation subsidiary, has completed its acquisition of College Station, Texas-based Kalon Biotherapeutics LLC. The two companies say this is another step toward making the Texas biosciences industry into a center for development and manufacturing of biopharmaceuticals and biotechnology. Kalon is a biopharmaceutical contract manufacturing organization (CMO) with advanced technologies and facilities, developing and manufacturing medical countermeasures to protect public health in emergencies, including incidents of bioterrorism or an outbreak of pandemic influenza.

  • EbolaKlain defends CDC protocols after lab technician’s potential exposure to Ebola

    The Obama administration’s Ebola czar, Ron Klain, yesterday (Sunday) defended the security procedures of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), after a technician at one of the agency’s labs in Atlanta was potentially exposed to the deadly disease. The CDC has been criticized earlier this year not only for its response to the Ebola outbreak and Ebola cases within the United States. Numerous safety violations and lax procedures have been reported in the CDC’s labs and in the manner the agency’s technicians transport lethal pathogens, including anthrax and botulism bacteria, from one lab to another.

  • BioterrorismFBI's investigation of 2001 anthrax attacks was flawed: GAO

    In a report released Friday, the Government Accounting Office (GAO) says the FBI relied on flawed scientific methods to investigate the 2001 anthrax attacks which killed five people and sent seventeen others to hospitals. The report raises questions about the FBI’s firm conclusion that it was Army biodefense specialist Bruce Ivins was responsible – or solely responsible – for the attacks.

  • AgroterrorismProtecting the U.S. food supply from agroterrorism

    “For the life of me, I cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply because it is so easy to do,” said Tommy Thompson during his 2004 farewell speech when he left his post as U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services. Documents found in a 2002 U.S. military raid on an al-Qaeda warehouse showed that terrorists sought to contaminate the U.S. food supplies. The documents included detailed instructions for attacking U.S. agricultural assets. Researchers at the University of California-Davis’ Western Institute for Food Safety and Security(WIFSS) are studying vulnerabilities of the U.S. agricultural system to the threats of agroterrorism.

  • EbolaUse of Ebola virus as bioterror weapon highly unlikely: Experts

    Francisco Martinez, Spain’s state secretary for security, claimed that ISIS fighters are planning to carry out “lone wolf” attacks using biological weapons. He cites conversations uncovered from secret chat rooms used by would-be militants. Bioterrorism experts say the use of Ebola for bioterrorism is highly unlikely. “Assuming a terrorist organization manages to capture a suitable Ebola host, extract the virus, weaponize the virus, transport the virus to a populated city and deliver the virus, it is entirely likely that the sub-optimal climatic conditions of a Western city will kill it off relatively quickly,” says one expert.

  • BioterrorismRicin vaccine shows promise in pilot study

    Ricin is a highly lethal toxin derived from the seeds of the castor oil plant. A dose of purified ricin powder the size of a few grains of table salt can kill an adult. Due to its toxicity and the ubiquity of source material, it’s considered a leading bioterrorism threat. A recent study at the Tulane National Primate Research Center showed for the first time that an experimental vaccine could completely protect nonhuman primates exposed to deadly ricin toxin, a potential bioterrorism agent.

  • Synthetic biologyMore research needed to address synthetic biology security concerns

    Synthetic biology involves the design of new biological components, devices, or systems that do not exist in nature, or the redesign of existing natural biological systems. Synthetic biology aims to make biological systems work more efficiently or to design biological tools for specific applications — such as developing more effective antibiotics. A new paper examines security risks and policy questions related to the growing field of synthetic biology. While the author does not think the field is ripe for exploitation by terrorists, it does highlight significant gaps in our understanding of the nuts and bolts of lab work in synthetic biology that can contribute to security risks.

  • EbolaConcerns about use of Ebola as a bioweapon exaggerated: Experts

    The stabbing of a federal air marshal with a syringe at the airport in Lagos, Nigeria, three weeks ago has raised concern about the possibility that the Ebola virus could be harvested by terrorists and used as a bioweapon. Security experts say that worries about the Ebola being used as a weapon by terrorists are exaggerated, since it would be very difficult for terrorists to grow large quantities of the virus and then turn the virus into an effective, dispersible weapon to cover a wide area in order to infect and kill a large number of people. Still, experts say the possibility of Ebola as a terror weapons cannot be completely discounted – especially small-scale attacks on individuals, like the attack on the air marshal at Lagos airport. Potentially even more dangerous would be a bioattack by suicide infectors – individuals who deliberately infected themselves for the purpose of carrying the virus out of an epidemic zone in order to infect people in other areas or even other countries.

  • BioterrorismNew gene therapy approach offers better treatment of botulism exposure, other illnesses

    The current method to treat acute toxin poisoning is to inject antibodies, commonly produced in animals, to neutralize the toxin. This method, however, has challenges ranging from safety to difficulties in developing, producing and maintaining the anti-serums in large quantities. New research shows that gene therapy may offer significant advantages in prevention and treatment of botulism exposure over current methods, and may have applicability to other illnesses.

  • BioterrorismRicin toxin vaccine shows promise in a non-human primate study

    Ricin toxin is a plant toxin thought to be a bioterror threat because of its stability and high potency as well as the large worldwide reservoir created as a by-product of castor oil production. As a poison, ricin is so potent that the U.S Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates the lethal dose in humans is about the size of a grain of salt. There are currently no effective means to prevent the effects of ricin poisoning. Soligenix, Inc., a clinical stage biopharmaceutical company developing several biodefense vaccines and therapeutics, announced last week promising preliminary results from a preclinical study with its ricin toxin vaccine RiVax, in a non-human primate (NHP) lethal aerosol exposure model.

  • BioterrorismCaptured documents reveal IS’s interest in acquiring bioterror weapons

    Terrorist organizations have been trying to acquire or build biological weapons of mass destruction, and now, with the growing threat of the Islamic State (IS), analysts are concerned that the Islamist group may gain access to bio-labs in Syria or Iraq. A laptop belonging to a Tunisian who joined ISIS was recently found in Syria, contained documents about how to build and use biological weapons.

  • EbolaEbola outbreak could inspire African terrorist groups to weaponize the virus: Experts

    Recent discussions about Ebola have mainly focused on the disease as a public health hazard, but counterterrorism officials are concerned that the new outbreak could inspire terror groups, specifically those based in West Africa, to weaponize the virus. The fear of weaponized Ebola dates back decades to when the Soviet Union’s VECTOR program, aimed at researching biotechnology and virology, was thought to have researched the creation of Ebola for warfare. In 1992 a Japanese cult group called Aum Shinrikyo tried, but failed, to collect samples of the Ebola virus in Zaire.

  • "Gain-of-function" (GOF) researchScientists support research which increases microbes’ virulence, transmissibility, or host range

    Amid new concerns about lab safety lapses and in a counterpoint to recent calls for restrictions on research that may render pathogens more dangerous, thirty-six scientists from several countries have issued a formal statement asserting that research on potentially dangerous pathogens can be done safely, and is necessary for a full understanding of infectious diseases. The statement rejects calls for limiting “gain-of-function” (GOF) research, that is, experiments which involve increasing the virulence, transmissibility, or host range of microbes.