HHS announces new bioterrorism research initiatives

Dec 10, 2001 (CIDRAP News) – The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has announced seven new research grant programs to speed efforts to prevent, diagnose, and treat diseases related to bioterrorism.

"The research programs at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) are designed to take advantage of the recent outpouring of ideas from concerned academic and industrial scientists on ways to understand and combat potential agents of bioterrorism," stated a Dec 6 press release from NIAID.

HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said the new programs will expedite the "submission, review and funding of this flood of scientific proposals." Officials said the initiatives will fund research on diseases that bioterrorists are considered most likely to attempt to spread: anthrax, botulism, plague, smallpox, tularemia, and viral hemorrhagic fevers.

NIAID media spokesperson Laurie Doepel said the programs are "either variations on a system already in place or brand new." The initiatives do not have specific budget allocations yet because the 2002 federal budget has not yet been completed and agencies are operating under continuing resolutions until then, she said.

The press release described the programs as follows:

  • The Anthrax Vaccine Contract aims to speed development of new vaccines against anthrax, especially a recombinant protective antigen vaccine. "NIAID has designated the Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) to solicit and act as the main contact point for information about such potential vaccines."
  • The Rapid Response Grants Program on Bioterrorism-Related Research will fund applications in 5 to 6 months after receipt, rather than the usual 9 or 10 months. The program is intended to spur the development of new prevention, treatment, and diagnostic methods and to improve understanding of the pathogenic organisms.
  • The Partnerhsips for Novel Therapeutic, Diagnostic, and Vector Control Strategies in Infectious Diseases will support development of new drugs and improved diagnostic techniques for diseases of public health importance, including those related to bioterrorism. "This program seeks to foster partnerships among government, academia, and the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. "It builds on an existing program dealing with infectious diseases that are not a high priority for industry.
  • Exploratory/Developmental Grants: Technology Applications to NIAID-Funded Research is intended to promote the use of the latest genetic, imaging, and computer technology in currently funded research on infectious diseases, especially those related to bioterrorism. Grants will permit researchers to buy new equipment or collaborate with other researchers who already have the needed equipment.
  • The Small Business Program on Bioterrorism-Related Research is a one-time call for research proposals on agents of bioterrorism. The program is part of an existing small-business grant program, but the administrative and review process will be streamlined.
  • The US-Based Collaboration in Emerging Viral and Prion Diseases is designed to establish multidisciplinary teams to investigate viral and viral-like diseases.
  • The NIAID Investigator-Initiated Small ResearchGrants will support "specific, well-defined projects that can be completed in two years or less."

More information about the programs is available on an NIAID Web page (see link below).

Officials said the National Institutes of Health spent about $47 million on bioterrorism-related research, including $36 million at NIAID, in fiscal 2001. The president's proposed budget for fiscal 2002 includes $93 million for NIH bioterrorism research, of which $81.6 million is for NIAID. Current projects deal with sequencing of the anthrax genome, the nature of the anthrax toxin, the feasibility of diluting the nation's stockpile of smallpox vaccine, and possible use of the antiviral drug cidofovir as a treatment for smallpox.

See also:

HHS's Dec 6 press release about the research grant programs

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