The Washington Post has this article on the BioShield program. It's a bit of a scorecard on the four-year old program, and the score doesn't look good for homeland security. Let's take a look, agent by agent.
- Old Anthrax Treatment: "As the result of an effort that began before BioShield, there are enough antibiotics in the national stockpile to treat 40 million people for more than 60 days, HHS says. Stockpiles also include 9 million doses of an anthrax vaccine produced by Emergent BioSolutions of Gaithersburg, with another 1 million to be delivered by the first quarter of this year." You might know "Emergent BioSolutions" better as BioPort - the controversial supplier of anthrax vaccine to the Defense Department.
- New Anthrax Treatment: "The agency is struggling to develop a more modern anthrax vaccine that could be administered in fewer doses and with fewer side effects. In 2004, the agency tapped a small California firm, VaxGen, for an $877 million contract to deliver 75 million doses of an anthrax vaccine. VaxGen encountered delays and technical problems, and HHS canceled the contract in December after the firm failed to begin human testing on time." VaxGen just laid off half its force and its CEO resigned.
- Botulinum Antitoxin: "Cangene has begun delivering the first of 200,000 doses of an antitoxin, which would have to be delivered shortly after patients show symptoms to counteract the effects of the toxin. There are currently no plans to pursue a vaccine, according to HHS." Bot tox is not really a mass casualty agent, more of an assassination tool. Not sure the victims will know what they have prior to... ah, dying. Not sure why this is even in the stockpile.
- Smallpox: "There is a stockpile of more than 300 million doses of smallpox vaccine, enough for everyone in the United States, according to HHS. That effort began before BioShield." Good news - lots of vaccine. Bad news - this is the old smallpox vaccine, which has odds on killing people who take it. No work for a new smallpox vaccine is underway.
- Potassium Iodide: "Enough potassium iodide to treat 1 million people is already in the national stockpile, according to HHS. Potassium iodide doesn't treat most aspects of radiation exposure, but scientists believe it can protect the thyroid gland from cancer in such an attack." Great! Now we don't have to worry about stunted growth! Does nothing for the rest of your irradiated body, though.
- Plague and Ebola: "Despite President Bush's mention of plague and Ebola in his State of the Union speech, the government has yet to contract with any company to produce a defense. HHS officials say the implementation plan to be issued in the next few months will include a roadmap to address both threats. Meanwhile, the National Institutes of Health is pursuing research on vaccines for both. NIH has completed the first phase of human testing for the Ebola version and is seeking volunteers for the second, according to an NIH official, who said it would be several years before it could be stockpiled."
So how's your scorecard look? Four years ago, President Bush announced BioShield as key initiative of the "Biodefense Strategy for the 21st Century." It took two years just to get the legislative language into shape. Four years later, we're still not much better than we were before 9/11. The administration's homeland security policy for medical biological countermeasures has failed.-- Jason Sigger, crossposted at Armchair GeneralistUPDATE: I failed to consider the British company Acambis work on a new, safer smallpox vaccine. It's in an IND status, not approved for general non-emergency use. I don't think that the R&D work is being funded through BioShield, however. They've been working on the vaccine for several years, with a large international customer base in mind.