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Work on High-Speed Vaccine Factories Prompts Questions

Specialists are questioning the feasibility of three U.S. factories being built to rapidly turn out drugs needed after an attack or disaster, Nature reports.

Certain analysts argued that few useful antidotes are currently available for responding to the types of biological and chemical events envisioned by the production facilities under preparation in Texas, North Carolina and Maryland, the journal reported on Tuesday. Observers also cast doubt on the utility of next-generation smallpox vaccines, as well as other drugs that may be produced at the so-called Centers for Innovation in Advanced Development and Manufacturing.

 

The United States is relatively unlikely to face a chemical or biological strike for which the factories would prove useful, argued Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist with Rutgers University. The Texas plant is slated to begin generating its first vaccine in the middle of this year, and federal officials plan in the next quarter-century to spend up to $2 billion on medical treatments from that single facility.

Philip Russell, a former biodefense adviser for the George W. Bush administration, suggested the United States should have built just one such production site for civilian and military needs, in line with a 2008 recommendation by the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

"Rather than one good operation that meets the government's needs, we got three operations that spread the money around," Russell said of the $440 million initiative, launched in 2012 by the Health and Human Services Department.

 

The current plan's backers, meanwhile, argued that operating several manufacturing plants would provide a fallback if one is compromised by a strike or release of hazardous material.

In addition to the three sites overseen by Health and Human Services, the Defense Department is constructing a $136 million factory in Florida to generate smaller quantities of biodefense products for armed-forces use. That site is expected to operate at an annual cost of $20 million following its scheduled launch in 2015.

This article was published in Global Security Newswire, which is produced independently by National Journal Group under contract with the Nuclear Threat Initiative. NTI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan group working to reduce global threats from nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.

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