NEWS SCAN: Biodefense funding, ag defense lab left out, Western Pacific leprosy

Feb 15, 2012

Obama's budget has variable impact on biodefense projects
President Obama's proposed budget for fiscal year 2013 is a mixed picture for the nation's biodefense efforts, Nature News Blog reported today. The budget includes  a boost for medical countermeasures developed through the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) and cutbacks in countermeasures developed through the Department of Defense (DoD). According to an analysis by Crystal Franco, MPH, with the Center for Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the proposed budget includes an increase of $11 million for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) BioWatch program, raising its total to $125 million. BARDA's budget would grow by $132 million to $547 million, along with a $415 supplement from the BioShield Special Reserve Fund. Biodefense areas that would see level funding include the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which includes money for a new biodefense laboratory in White Oak, Md., and the National Institutes of Health. Departments that play a role in biodefense that are slated for cuts include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which would see its funds for preparedness and the Strategic National Stockpile drop by $47 million to $486 million, and the DoD's medical biodefense program, which would see a $90.9 million cut, putting that budget at $347.9 million, according to the report.
Feb 15 Nature News Blog report

Planned agro defense lab in Kansas left out of 2013 budget proposal
A plan to build a big federal plant-and-animal-disease laboratory in Kansas has been left out of the proposed fiscal 2013 budget and may be dead, a victim of the crippled real estate market, according to ScienceInsider, a news service of Science magazine. The DHS picked Manhattan, Kan., as the site for the proposed National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF), which was to replace the Plum Island Animal Disease Center off the New York coast. The government planned to pay for the $650 million Kansas facility by selling Plum Island, but the real estate market crash lowered its market value and led officials to decide that selling it "was no longer viable within the requisite time frame," the story said. The NBAF was to be a biosafety level 4 lab, capable of studying the most dangerous pathogens, such as foot-and-mouth disease, and has been controversial from the beginning. DHS now plans to re-evaluate whether such a facility is really needed, according to the story. Tara O'Toole, head of the DHS science and technology directorate, told ScienceInsider that DHS will set up a task force with the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services to study the question. If the lab is still deemed necessary, DHS could advocate putting funds in the 2014 budget. Meanwhile, Kansas politicians have vowed to fight the proposed cancellation.
Feb 14 ScienceInsider story

WHO urges final push against leprosy in the Western Pacific
The World Health Organization (WHO) this week urged Western Pacific nations to make a final push to stem leprosy, saying the region has more than 5,000 new cases a year, with the largest share in the Philippines. Since 1991, leprosy in the region has declined 90%, the agency said in a press release, but three countries—Micronesia, Kiribati, and the Marshall Islands—fail to meet the WHO goal of less than 1 case per 10,000 population. And the Philippines, which has reached the WHO goal, has 2,000 new cases of leprosy a year. "Leprosy elimination in the Western Pacific is a paradox," said Shin Young-soo, MD, PhD, WHO regional director for the Western Pacific. "On one hand, all but a few small countries in the region have eliminated leprosy as WHO defines elimination of the disease. On the other, we continue to see a disappointingly high number of new reported cases each year, including in more than 400 children. Most of those cases are occurring in countries that meet the elimination target but continue to have hot spots of disease."

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