The U.S. biotech industry could help shore up the country’s defenses against bioterrorism and other biological threats, while at the same time obtaining lucrative government contracts, U.S. officials said at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference Wednesday.
The White House established task forces to deal with bio-hazards in the wake of anthrax attacks that occurred in October 2001. While initially the government effort focused on man-made biological threats, the appearance of SARS and the Asian flu virus prompted authorities to broaden their vigilance, said Rajeev Venkayya, a former White House advisor on biohazards.
Measures include funding for developing and stockpiling vaccines and treatments, said Brian Kamoie, a top official with the Department of Health and Human Services. Approximately $2 billion has been assigned in contracts and other funding, he said.
Big Pharma companies have stayed away from the program – known as Project Bioshield – because its initial emphasis was on the acquisition of already-developed products. But recent legislation has enabled government agencies directing the program to devote more incentives to the development of counter-measures to biological threats.
While the biotech revolution can provide a response to some hazards, it can also be the source of new threats, Venkayya said. Within five to ten years, he predicted, terrorists could be using biotech tools “to turn a bad bug into a really bad bug.”