Delivering on Biotech’s Promise to Treat Anthrax, Smallpox, Ebola

Jim's Corner

Thanks to federal biodefense programs that partner with industry to develop and stockpile medical countermeasures, each year America is better equipped to respond to potential biological, chemical, nuclear and radiological threats, BIO president and CEO Jim Greenwood says in a Roll Call op-ed published today.

With recent anthrax and smallpox incidents at CDC and NIH labs,  which fortunately did not lead to any human exposure,  it’s worth taking a look at how we might respond in the event of an actual outbreak. As Greenwood observes:

The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority works with biotech and pharmaceutical companies to develop and stockpile medical countermeasures. Through development and purchases under the Project BioShield Special Reserve Fund, managed by BARDA, our government has stockpiled several different vaccines and drugs to help the nation recover from a smallpox or anthrax event, whether accidental or as part of a terrorist attack.

Biotech companies in partnership with the federal government are also playing a leading role in developing treatments for Ebola. As David Kroll reports at Forbes, Mapp Bio, the developer of the ZMapp™ experimental therapy used to treat the American missionary Ebola patients, is the beneficiary of grants and contracts from several federal agencies, including  the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID), the Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects (DARPA), and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA).

Another biotech company, Tekmira Pharmaceuticals, is developing RNA interference (RNAi) post-exposure therapeutics for Ebola and Marburg Hemorrhagic Fever Virus (HFV) infections based on a proprietary lipid nanoparticle (LNP) nucleic acid delivery platform. Tekmira’s experimental Ebola treatment is currently undergoing Phase I clinical trials as part of a $140 million contract awarded by the Department of Defense.

Cambridge-based Sarepta Therapeutics also has an experimental Ebola treatment which has been tested in Ebola-infected rhesus monkeys, with a cure rate of 60 to 80 percent, the Boston Globe reported yesterday. That treatment began development in 2010, also thanks to DoD funding.

Vaccines and medical countermeasures for threats like Ebola, smallpox, and anthrax have limited commercial prospects, but they protect against diseases with enormous destructive potential. As Greenwood observes, federal programs to develop such treatments are a modest insurance policy that we cannot afford to forgo.

Read the op-ed here.

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