A major report was released today detailing findings and recommendations to improve the U.S. biodefense readiness. “A National Blueprint for Biodefense: Leadership and Major Reform Needed to Optimize Efforts” was authored by the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense, on which BIO President and CEO Jim Greenwood serves. The panel is co-chaired by former Sen. Joe Lieberman and former Gov. Tom Ridge. Other panelists include former Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala, former Sen. Tom Daschle, and the Hon. Kenneth Wainstein.
The panel was established in 2014 to assess our nation’s entire biodefense apparatus to identify weaknesses and make recommendations for improvement. The Panel members held four day-long hearings in which individuals from all levels of government, industry, academia and advocacy shared their perspectives on the problems and potential solutions in our biodefense readiness. The Panel concluded that myriad threats, vulnerabilities, and potential consequences have dramatically increased the risk posed to our nation by a biological threat. However, dramatic improvements in our readiness to respond to such threats are within reach provided we follow a national blueprint (such as the one released today), establish meaningful and empowered leadership in the area, and reform the good efforts already in place, including the public-private partnerships with industry and government that have already provided many medical countermeasures for biological threats.
Three recommendations in particular bear highlighting:
Empower the Vice President to lead the nation’s biodefense enterprise
One of the most serious deficiencies identified by the report is the lack of a centralized leader for biodefense and a comprehensive national strategic plan for biodefense issues. The U.S. government lacks a single leader to orchestrate the efforts of the many government agencies involved in biodefense preparedness, planning and response.
Fully prioritize, fund and incentivize medical countermeasure (MCM) development and procurement
The development of any drug or vaccine candidate is a risky, lengthy, and expensive process. The challenges with MCMs are even greater because there is limited-to-no commercial market for these products and because the opportunity costs for doing this contract work for the government are too high for many companies.
Improve upon the public-private partnership through contracting reforms
Legacy and current contracting practices are still not sufficiently transparent, uniformly implemented, predictable, or flexible enough to accommodate efficient MCM development, or to optimize industry participation to achieve U.S. government biodefense preparedness objectives.