In the nearly 14 years since the anthrax attacks, the United States has made progress on how to deal with potential bioterror threats, experts said Wednesday at the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense.
As the Ebola virus continues to ravage west Africa and with evidence that the Islamic State is trying to weaponize bubonic plague, however, experts on the panel said the U.S. still has a lot of work to do.
“It’s been a long slog,” former Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) told members of the bipartisan Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense. The panel has met four time over the last few months and plans to send biodefense recommendations to Congress.
As a Michigan Republican in Congress for 14 years – and chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence for the last four – Rogers witnessed the evolution of biodefense on the federal level. That has included the creation of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), the federal arm that manages the development and procurement of countermeasures against a number of agents and infectious diseases.
Dan Abdun-Nabi can attest to that. When his company, Emergent BioSolutions, was founded in 1998, the Department of Defense was still viewed as the necessary overseer of bioterror initiatives.
That paradigm shifted in 2001 after the anthrax attacks left five civilians dead and infected 17 others.
“What we learned is bioterror is not only a military issue,” Abdun-Nabi, who serves as Emergent’s president and CEO, said. “It affects civilians and we learned we were ill-prepared to address a large-scale bioterrorist attack on civilians in this country.”
Since then, Emergent BioSolutions has gone on to become the only Food and Drug Administration-licensed creator of an anthrax vaccine. Known as Biothrax, the goal is to eventually have 75 million doses of the vaccine in the Strategic National Stockpile.