U.S. Eyes $90 Million Contract for Bioterror Treatments

Firefighters treat a mock bioterrorism victim during a 2013 drill in Oregon. The U.S. Health and Human Services Department could award up to $90 million over five years to develop a new treatment against glanders and melioidosis.
National Journal
Diane Barnes
Feb. 5, 2014, 10:06 a.m.

A U.S. agency said it could spend some $90 mil­lion over the next five years on a new treat­ment against two po­ten­tially feas­ible bi­o­ter­ror­ism agents.

The Health and Hu­man Ser­vices De­part­ment on Wed­nes­day said a Medi­cines Com­pany-owned firm will ini­tially re­ceive $19.8 mil­lion for work on Car­bavance, its de­vel­op­ment­al coun­ter­meas­ure for glanders and melioidos­is dis­eases.

Both bac­teria are con­sidered to be pos­sibly suited to­ward use as bio­lo­gic­al weapons. Up to nine of 10 un­treated in­fec­tions in­volving either patho­gen can res­ult in death, ac­cord­ing to an agency press re­lease. Health and Hu­man Ser­vices said the agents can de­vel­op res­ist­ance to an­ti­bi­ot­ics; with drugs now avail­able, the odds of dy­ing still stand at roughly two in five.

The con­tract award marked a new in­vest­ment in “broad-spec­trum an­ti­mi­cro­bi­als” by the fed­er­al agency’s Bio­med­ic­al Ad­vanced Re­search and De­vel­op­ment Au­thor­ity. Such treat­ments are de­signed to be of use in re­spond­ing to a po­ten­tial bio­lo­gic­al strike, as well as for hand­ling oth­er health threats.

“An­ti­bi­ot­ic res­ist­ance ad­versely im­pacts our na­tion’s abil­ity to re­spond ef­fect­ively to a bi­o­ter­ror­ism at­tack and to every­day pub­lic health threats,” BARDA Dir­ect­or Robin Robin­son said in a state­ment. “By part­ner­ing with in­dustry to de­vel­op nov­el an­ti­mi­cro­bi­al drugs against bio­threats that also treat drug-res­ist­ant bac­teria, we can ad­dress health se­cur­ity and pub­lic health needs ef­fi­ciently.”

Glanders is a res­pir­at­ory ill­ness spread by bac­teria that can either be breathed in or picked up by phys­ic­al con­tact with con­tam­in­ated an­im­als. Melioidos­is, also known as Whit­more’s dis­ease, is trans­mit­ted via in­hal­a­tion or phys­ic­al con­tact. The dis­ease is of­ten con­fused with tuber­cu­los­is and some forms of pneu­mo­nia.

Mean­while, the firm Hawaii Bi­otech said it would re­ceive $7.4 mil­lion over half a dec­ade to pre­pare a pos­sible coun­ter­meas­ure for an­thrax tox­in. The fund­ing would come from the Na­tion­al In­sti­tute for Al­lergy and In­fec­tious Dis­eases, ac­cord­ing to a com­pany state­ment.

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