Posts by Nate Hafer

Anthrax scientist commits suicide

It was reported today in the Los Angeles Times that Bruce E. Ivins, a bioweapons scientist at Ft. Detrick MD has died of an apparent suicide. Ivins died on Tuesday, July 29, 2008 according to an obituary published in the Frederick News-Post. According to the LA Times, Ivins was under investigation in connection with the 2001 anthrax mail attacks and “criminal charges were looming.”

According to the Associated Press, “a U.S. official says federal prosecutors investigating the 2001 anthrax attacks had planned to seek indictment and the death penalty” against Ivins.

Click here for a related story in the Washington Post.

National Biodefense Science Board Meeting: Day 1

The National Biodefense Science Board (NBSB) began their inaugural meeting yesterday in Washington DC. The board, made up of 13 voting members and 21 non-voting ex officio representatives, was created as part of the 2006 Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act. The NBSB was chartered with the task of providing expert advice to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary on science, technology, and other matters of special interest on chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear issues, including both naturally occurring and deliberate events.

The members include Patricia Quinlisk (Iowa Dept. of Public Health, chair), James J. James (American Medical Association), Steve Cantrell (Denver Health Medical Center), Eric Rose (SIGA Technologies), Albert Di Rienzo (Welch Allyn), Ken Dretchen (Georgetown University Biosecurity Institute), John Grabenstein (Merck Vaccine Division), Ruth Berkelman (Emory University , Thomas MacVittie (University of Maryland School of Medicine), John Parker (SAIC), Andrew Pavia (University of Utah Medical Center) Roberta Carlin (American Association on Health and Disability), and Patrick Scannon (XOMA).

After the morning introductory session, the group listened to several talks presented by executive branch officials that discussed current US Government policies on preparedness and response. After this, the group heard another series of talks that outlined possible topics and issues that the NBSB could focus on initially. The broadly defined proposed topics, developed by officials at HHS, are as follows- an evaluation of research and development components of the HHS influenza preparedness strategy, innovation and medical countermeasure development, how to address gaps in the medical countermeasures marketplace, modeling and metrics to inform medical consequence assessment, and considerations for special and at-risk populations.

Today the group will make decisions about how to go forward as a board. The group will try to prioritize topics and determine how to fulfill their charge. Since the mandate to the NBSB is so broad, many members agreed that it is important to determine the group’s focus in a way that considers issues based on their timeliness and achievability.

The agenda for the meeting is here
NBSB main page
Members list

Written by Nate Hafer

National Research Council Report slams NIH findings on Boston U containment lab

The National Research Council (NRC) just released a report that finds that “a National Institutes of Health draft assessment of the risks associated with a proposed biocontainment laboratory at Boston University is “not sound and credible.””

The NRC report came in response to a request by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for technical input into the scientific adequacy of the NIH study. The NIH study, known as the Draft Supplemental Environmental Report (DSER), was to perform additional risk assessments and site analyses in response to environmental safety concerns raised in an earlier Federal court ruling.

From the NRC report cover letter:

The NRC committee was asked to address three specific questions:

1. Are the scientific analyses in the DSER sound and credible?
Overall, the Committee believes that the DSER as drafted is not sound and credible.

2. Has the NIH identified representative worst case scenarios?
The DSER as drafted has not adequately identified and thoroughly developed worst case scenarios.

3. Based on the comparison of risk associated with alternative locations, is there a greater risk to public health and safety from the location of the facility in one or another proposed location?
The DSER does not contain the appropriate level of information to compare the risks associated with alternative locations.

This latest report is unfortunate, but not unexpected in this case. The handling of the new BU lab has been mishandled on just about every conceivable level and has led to community distrust and has unfairly marked other biocontainment facilities with a scarlet letter. That the report was simply a draft is a poor excuse in this case because everyone involved was aware of the controversy surrounding the BU facility. This case is certainly cause for a serious re-evaluation of practices associated with the expansion of US biodefense capabilities and, at the very least, a system of checks and balances that prevent this brand of folly from ever happening again.

For the full NRC report click here.

To see the draft NIH study in question click here.

For a copy of the news release from the NRC, visit here.

Written with Nate Hafer.