NIAID releases lengthy bioterrorism research agenda

Mar 18, 2002 (CIDRAP News) – The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has released a 68-page report on its plan for expanding research on "Category A" bioterrorism agents: anthrax, smallpox, plague, tularemia, viral hemorrhagic fevers, and botulism.

The Bush administration is proposing a $1.2 billion increase in counter-bioterrorism funding for the NIAID in fiscal 2003. "The government's renewed focus on bioterrorism research will enable NIAID to expand ongoing projects and to establish much-needed new initiatives to prepare for potential bioterrorism attacks," NIAID officials said in a statement released Mar 14. "New programs will involve traditional grants with academic researchers and institutions plus new models for government-industry partnerships."

The NIAID Counter-Bioterrorism Research Agenda for CDC Category A Agents was prepared by NIAID scientists and reviewed by a panel of outside experts from academia, industry, and government in early February, the NIAID said.

The institute proposes to conduct both basic and applied research on each of the six agents. Six categories of research and supporting activity are described by the NIAID as follows:

  • Microbial biology: Work will focus on the biology and pathogenic mechanisms of the agents and will include genome sequencing.
  • Human immune response: Basic research on the immune system will help in the development of vaccines, diagnostic tests, and drugs that boost overall immunity to a range of pathogens.
  • Vaccines: Human testing of new vaccines for anthrax and Ebola virus will soon begin, and research on improved smallpox and tularemia vaccines is underway.
  • Treatments: The increase in bacterial resistance to antibiotics and the relative scarcity of effective antiviral drugs make research imperative.
  • Diagnostics: Rapid, accurate diagnostic tests for both natural and bioengineered microbes are needed.
  • Research resources: Many resources, such as novel reagents and high-containment laboratories and clinical facilities, are needed to support the research above; NIAID will provide those resources in part by building the necessary facilities, establishing collaborations with industry, and training new scientists with varying expertise.

The NIAID plan includes a list of immediate, intermediate, and long-term research goals for each of the six agents. Some immediate goals for smallpox, for example, include

  • Conducting phase I and II trials of new vaccines, with emphasis on the cell-culture vaccines now under development
  • Developing a centralized immunology laboratory to validate assays required for licensing vaccines
  • Fully characterizing cidofovir's activity against poxviruses and ensuring that the drug is available to treat complications from vaccination
  • Developing animal models for studying smallpox pathogenesis

NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, MD, said expanded research on bioterrorism-related diseases will help in combating other emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases. "People lack immunity to emerging diseases, and effective treatments are not always known," he said. "The influx of resources and renewed energy into infectious diseases research will no doubt help us enormously in tackling naturally occurring illnesses such as drug-resistant tuberculosis and influenza."

The NIAID report also includes a copy of the agency's strategic plan for counter-bioterrorism research, described as a general overview of the agency's plans for attacking the full range of potential bioterrorism agents. The institute said it plans to prepare research plans for Category B and C agents soon.

See also:

Mar 14 NIAID press release

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