The final biosecurity panel of the day was an extended Q&A session with a panel of seven participants from the US government and industry. The panel discussed countermeasures to biological threats, and offered an interesting contrast between where the two sides agreed and differed on the issues.
The two sides were in clear agreement on the need for more resources to address the potential for biological threats. All present felt that agencies, such as the US Food and Drug Administration, require more funding and personnel in order to carry out their mission in a timely and effective manner. All also agreed that the threat of new and unexpected pathogens is real and could be imminent.
The government side of the panel included Michael Kurilla (head of biodefense programs at the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Disease within NIH), Nicole Lurie (the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response at the US Department of Health and Human services, and a speaker at the morning session), and James Gilman, commander of the Army Medical Research and Materiel Command. This group emphasized the need for flexible and efficient responses that could be quickly directed to a variety of unknown and emerging threats.
The industry side of the panel consisted of Eric Richman, interim CEO of PharmAthene, Paul Chaplin, Executive VP for Research and Development and CSO at Bavarian Nordic, John Grabenstein, Senior Medical Director for adult vaccines at Merck, and James Davis, Senior Vice President at Human Genome Sciences. This group emphasized the need for predictable markets for countermeasures in order to make the case to investors that biodefense projects are worth supporting.
The comparison was drawn to traditional defense contractors, who can sink money into developing a project secure in the knowledge that the DOD will ultimately purchase a certain amount of the completed project, should it be successful. By contrast, a vaccine manufacturer might be expected to build an expensive dedicated facility, which would typically only be used for a single specific vaccine due to fears of contamination. Without knowing how much to expect in sales revenue, the company can be hard pressed to determine how much it can afford to spend on partnerships and expenses in developing a project.
In the end, the solutions to administrative problems may need to be as creative as the solutions to scientific ones. For instance, Admiral Lurie suggested that many potential bioweapons qualify for expedited review as “orphan drugs”, and also described a “speed-dating” like approach to fostering partnerships between companies that had a potential vaccine candidate and manufacturers capable of bringing that product to market.