HHS accelerates bioterrorism research

December 06, 2001

HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson today announced seven new initiatives to accelerate bioterrorism research and help strengthen the nation's ability to deal with the public health threat posed by bioterrorism. The research programs at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) are designed to take advantage of the recent outpouring of ideas from concerned academic and industrial scientists on ways to understand and combat potential agents of bioterrorism. NIAID is the lead institute for research on bioterrorism at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

"Lethal bioterrorism has become a stark reality, and our ability to detect and counter this danger depends on having reliable, up-to-date knowledge," Secretary Thompson said. "Under these new initiatives, the submission, review and funding of this flood of scientific proposals will be expedited so that important research in this area can advance as quickly as possible."

"At NIAID, our offices have been deluged with calls from scientists who want to help," NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., said. "At scientific meetings and conferences, I am often approached by researchers with promising ideas and a desire to contribute to the fight against bioterrorism. These new programs will allow us to channel that energy and new thinking toward enhancing our already significant bioterrorism research program."

The following initiatives will fund research investigating high-priority, "Category A" biological diseases as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - anthrax, botulism, plague, smallpox, tularemia and viral hemorrhagic fevers. Many of these programs will encourage government partnerships with business and academia. Many of them expand or build upon existing NIAID bioterrorism or infectious disease research programs. Proposals and applications from scientists may be submitted immediately. For more detailed information, visit NIAID's new Web page, New Bioterrorism-Related Research Funding Opportunities, at http://www.niaid.nih.gov/dmid/bioterrorism/.

***The ANTHRAX VACCINE CONTRACT seeks to accelerate development of new vaccines against the agent that causes this disease. NIAID has designated the Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) to solicit and act as the main contact point for information about such potential vaccines. In particular, NIAID wants to support work on one of the most promising types of vaccines, called a recombinant protective antigen vaccine.

***The RAPID RESPONSE GRANT PROGRAM ON BIOTERRORISM-RELATED RESEARCH will evaluate and fund new applications in five to six months after receipt, rather than the usual nine or 10 months. This program will encourage researchers to investigate new prevention strategies for those at risk of exposure, new treatments for those infected, and improved diagnostics. It will also fund basic research that provides a better understanding of the disease-causing organisms, particularly information gleaned from the genomes of these organisms.

***The PARTNERSHIPS FOR NOVEL THERAPEUTIC, DIAGNOSTIC, AND VECTOR CONTROL STRATEGIES IN INFECTIOUS DISEASES will support work on new drug development and faster, more accurate diagnostics for diseases of public health importance, including those caused by possible agents of bioterrorism. This program seeks to foster partnerships among government, academia, and the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. It builds upon an established program that supports research on infectious diseases that are not a high priority for industry.

***EXPLORATORY/DEVELOPMENTAL GRANTS: TECHNOLOGY APPLICATIONS TO NIAID-FUNDED RESEARCH. These grants will apply the latest genetic, imaging and computer technology to currently funded research on infectious diseases, especially those caused by Category A agents of bioterrorism. With these grants, investigators can purchase new equipment or collaborate with researchers who already have the needed equipment and expertise. For example, this program might allow investigators to use the latest gene knockout technology to better understand a particular infectious organism.

***The SMALL BUSINESS PROGRAM ON BIOTERRORISM-RELATED RESEARCH is a one-time solicitation of applications for research on agents of bioterrorism. This program is part of the already established small business grant program, but the administrative and review process will be streamlined.

***The U.S.-BASED COLLABORATION IN EMERGING VIRAL AND PRION DISEASES is designed to establish multidisciplinary research units that will investigate viral and viral-like diseases. These units will quickly study threats from emerging and re-emerging viruses and provide needed information about them.

***The NIAID INVESTIGATOR-INITIATED SMALL RESEARCH GRANTS will fund specific, well-defined projects that can be completed in two years or less. This program allows individual investigators to take advantage of unexpected research opportunities and to follow promising new leads.

In addition to these new efforts, NIAID supports an extensive portfolio of existing bioterrorism-related research. In fiscal year 2001, NIH spent about $47 million on bioterrorism research, including about $36 million at NIAID. For fiscal year 2002, prior to the Sept. 11 attacks, the President's budget proposed $93 million for NIH bioterrorism research, including $81.6 million for NIAID. Current research projects include:

***NIAID helps fund the ongoing project at The Institute for Genomic Research to sequence the genome of the anthrax bacterium. (Visit http://www.tigr.org for more information.)

***In October, investigators supported by NIAID published two studies in the journal Nature that help explain how the anthrax toxin destroys cells. In one of these studies, the researchers reported developing a compound that may block this toxin.

***Last year, NIAID began a clinical study to determine if the current 15 million doses of smallpox vaccine might be safely diluted and thereby stretched to protect more people.

***NIAID has submitted an Investigational New Drug application to the Food and Drug Administration for the use of the antiviral drug cidofovir as an emergency smallpox treatment.

NIAID is a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIAID supports basic and applied research to prevent, diagnose, and treat infectious and immune-mediated illnesses, including HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, tuberculosis, malaria, autoimmune disorders, asthma and allergies. More information about NIAID's bioterrorism research efforts is available at http://www.niaid.nih.gov/publications/bioterrorism.htm
Press releases, fact sheets and other NIAID-related materials are available on the NIAID Web site at http://www.niaid.nih.gov. All HHS press releases, fact sheets and other press materials are available at http://www.hhs.gov/news.

NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

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