Bio-threat protections inadequate

Despite the Obama administration’s repeated warnings about the menace of a widespread contagion within the United States, both lawmakers and independent experts are continuing to give low marks to government initiatives designed to detect, track, and protect against those threats.

In recent years, both the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and the spread of the Zika virus in Latin America have brought the nature of threat into sharp relief.

In the 2015 Worldwide Threat Assessment, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper admitted that the world’s response to Ebola was too slow.

“Gaps in disease surveillance and reporting, limited health care resources, and other factors contributed to the outpacing of the international community’s response in West Africa,” Clapper wrote.

In the most recent Worldwide Threat Assessment, released in February,  Clapper issued an ominous warning in regard to the Zika virus, which he said “is projected to cause up to 4 million cases in 2016; it will probably spread to virtually every country in the hemisphere.”

Earlier this month, that assessment was amplified by researchers from the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.  In a study published in the Public Library of Science’s journal PLOS Currents: Outbreaks, they warned that at least 50 U.S. cities are at risk for a Zika Virus outbreak this summer.

 As the effects of climate change spread worldwide, experts warn more that contagions are on their way. And yet, the two Department of Homeland Security (DHS) programs meant to protect Americans against these biological threats aren’t up to the task, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

One of these programs, the National Biosurveillance Integration Center, or NBIC, was created in 2007 to be a hub of information and coordination for federal agencies tracking diseases and biological threats. But the mission is suffering, a September 2015 GAO report said, because many federal agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are not sharing   information with NBIC.  Among the reasons, CDC officials said: legal restrictions that compel them to redact data from reports, a labor-intensive process.  The report said other federal agencies’ officials did not understand the purpose or value of giving resources to NBIC.

“[NBIC doesn’t] have the access to information and data, they don’t have the trust of partners,” said Chris Currie, director of the GAO’s Emergency Management and National Preparedness Team, in an interview.  “What they do provide is good but it isn’t really that useful for the partners.”


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Jay Ambrose: Brussels and the threat of bio-terrorism

The government needs to get going, especially noting the words of Ridge, the co-chairman of this report, as quoted in a discussion of its content:

“Our world is threatened more so than ever today by terrorist groups like ISIS, who can create undetectable immediate threats. Our government is delusional to think we can get by without a strong biodefense policy.”

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NHRC Partners with DTRA to Protect Warfighters from Emerging Infectious Diseases

SAN DIEGO (NNS) – Scientists from the Naval Health Research Center (NHRC) and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) held a two-day meeting to discuss progress and goals for a joint biosurveillance project, March 7-8.

NHRC has collaborated with DTRA and the Joint Science and Technology Office on the Field Forward Diagnostics program since 2013 to develop novel point of need (PON) diagnostics to identify pathogens that cause acute febrile illnesses and threaten global and public health. 

“The goal of the program is to enhance readiness by enabling our warfighters to use handheld diagnostic devices in the field to detect pathogens that can cause incapacitating or deadly diseases,” said Capt. Rita Simmons, NHRC commanding officer. “Once a pathogen has been identified, immediate guidance could be provided to troops and their leaders to help them deal appropriately with the health threat. This project has the potential to significantly impact medical and mission readiness.”

The joint NHRC and DTRA team will evaluate the handheld devices for ease of use and test a system for broadcasting data from the devices to remotely located subject-matter experts for real-time decision making on events occurring in far-forward areas. The project would bring the expertise of medical and public health professionals to troops in the field.

According to Dr. Christopher Myers, department head for biosurveillance at NHRC, emerging infectious diseases that our military could encounter around the globe, particularly those found in tropical settings such as dengue, Burkholderia melioidosis, and malaria, are often difficult to distinguish by their clinical characteristics alone.

“Confirmation from a laboratory is needed for a definitive diagnosis, but if you’re in the field, forward deployed, a lab can be hard to come by,” said Myers. 

As part of the collaborative effort, NHRC will monitor all sites involved in the study to ensure that protocols are being followed and data properly collected. NHRC will also provide logistical support by shipping supplies and instruments, and coordinating maintenance and repairs as needed, to the different study sites around the globe.

As the DoD’s premier deployment health research center, NHRC’s cutting-edge research and development is used to optimize the operational health and readiness of the nation’s armed forces. In proximity to more than 95,000 active duty service members, world-class universities, and industry partners, NHRC sets the standard in joint ventures, innovation, and translational research.

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Q&A with co-director of the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense – Homeland Preparedness News

Homeland Preparedness News recently interviewed Dr. Asha George, co-director of the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense, a bipartisan organization recommending changes to U.S. policy and law to strengthen national biodefense. HPN: The Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense is … Read More »

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PositiveID Achieves Major Firefly Dx Development Milestone –

Newest milestone and lab results demonstrate Firefly Dx design is capable of full biological testing process, from sample preparation to PCR and detection
DELRAY BEACH, Fla., March 15, 2016 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — PositiveID Corporation (“PositiveID” or “Company”) (OTCQB:PSID), a life sciences company focused on detection and diagnostics, announced today that it has achieved another development milestone for its Firefly Dx breadboard prototype pathogen detection system (“prototype system”). The Company has now demonstrated that the entire Firefly Dx prototype design functions as intended through the complete sample purification and detection process without the use of any third-party hardware, which is a critical component for future development and commercialization activities.

The Company successfully processed multiple samples on the Firefly Dx sample preparation breadboard and the purified sample DNA was put through the polymerase chain reaction (“PCR”) process and real-time detection on the Firefly Dx PCR breadboard. The testing was completed without the use of any commercial instruments. The next step in the development of Firefly Dx is to combine these processes and breadboards into single units and demonstrate the capability to run a test from putting the raw sample in the cartridge through sample preparation, PCR and real-time detection as a single system. 

“This latest development milestone further demonstrates the full capabilities of our patented Firefly Dx technology and our cartridges,” stated William J. Caragol, Chairman and CEO of PositiveID. “We are now running on all of our own equipment, which gives us additional confidence that we will be able to successfully finalize the development of Firefly Dx. We are currently seeking a government contract or other partner to help us fund the remaining development and the build of the smaller, field-able prototype for testing by third parties to prepare for commercialization.”

The Firefly Dx prototype system incorporates sample preparation on disposable, injection molded cartridges that remove contaminants and purify samples for processing and detection with real-time PCR. The inclusion of real-time optics on the Firefly Dx prototype system enables the measurement of fluorescence with every cycle of the PCR process, which is used to understand the amount of pathogen present.

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AP Investigation: American company bungled Ebola response

San Francisco-based Metabiota Inc. was tapped by the Sierra Leonean government and the World Health Organization to help monitor the spread of the virus and support the response after Ebola was discovered circulating in neighboring Guinea in March 2014. But emails obtained by AP and interviews with aid workers on the ground show that some of the company’s actions made an already chaotic situation worse.

WHO outbreak expert Dr. Eric Bertherat wrote to colleagues in a July 17, 2014, email about misdiagnoses and “total confusion” at the Sierra Leone government lab Metabiota shared with Tulane University in the city of Kenema. He said there was “no tracking of the samples” and “absolutely no control on what is being done.”

“This is a situation that WHO can no longer endorse,” he wrote.

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Thanks to David Olive of Catalyst Partners for flagging this story.

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Artis Group takes BioSurveillance Solution to the US

Artis technology strategist, Justin Domaingue, said for governments who need to prepare for, and deal with, biosecurity, bio surveillance and bioterrorism events, BIS was an ideal solution.

“It can be easily configured for specific deployments, with in-built emergency mode allowing the client to focus on a crisis or event,” he said. “BIS offers fast access to information and real-time data, as well as geospatial mapping to pinpoint and isolate an incident; providing the ability to track, contain and eradicate disease outbreaks as well as certifying produce for export.”

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