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Judd Gregg: Biodefense Funding Is Crucial to National Security

March 23, 2016
Writing in the Morning Consult, former Senator Judd Gregg explains critical role of federal programs in preparing our nation for viral outbreaks and other biohazards that threaten to cause devastating harm to our national security. Because there is no commercial market for medical countermeasures to respond to attacks from chemical, biological, nuclear and radiological threats, in 2004 Congress passed the Project BioShield Act, which created the Project BioShield Special Reserve Fund (SRF) to incentivize research into such MCMs. Senator Gregg was a lead sponsor of that bill, and explains the genesis and rationale for its passage. He also discusses the successes the program has had in increasing our preparedness, as well as restricted funding in recent years, which threatens the success of the program  – and our ability to respond to devastating threats – moving forward:
The Department of Health and Human Services reports that twelve MCMs were completed and stockpiled during this period, and the pipeline of MCMs in late-stage development now exceeds 200 products.

The BioShield SRF was successful because it provided a guaranteed market for companies – they could be guaranteed that their investments in these critical products would pay off, if their product proved successful. There was a promise of procurement at the end of the decade-long development cycle.

We have made significant progress in preparing for an attack in some instances, such as with anthrax or smallpox, but we remain unprepared for many other high-risk pathogens such as plague or tularemia.

Today, Congress has the opportunity to strengthen our ability to respond to an expanding array of biohazards and threats.

When the original $5.6 billion expired, Congress reauthorized the SRF with a $2.8 billion sum over five years. However, rather than providing the funds as a lump-sum reserve, Congress has funded the SRF through annual appropriations, diminishing the certainty that the SRF originally provided. In both 2014 and 2015, only $255 million was appropriated each year – far below what was authorized and what is needed for drug development.

It was encouraging to see Congress increase funding for the SRF to $510 million in 2016, but disheartening to see only $350 million requested in the President’s 2017 Budget. This is especially true when you examine the HHS Multi-Year Budget provided last year, in which the Administration estimated that they would spend $870 million on procurement of life-saving MCMs in 2017.

In 2017 and 2018, Congress must provide a robust level of funding for the SRF if they want to inspire the confidence necessary for companies to put their time and money into the development of urgently needed MCMs.

Read the full piece here.