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Nature Biotechnology: Outpaced by an outbreak

November 12, 2014
The current issue of Nature Biotechnology contains an editorial on the response to the Ebola outbreak that is well-worth the read. The editors discuss some of the barriers which have slowed the development of Ebola medicines, including budgetary issues with federal programs designed to incentivize the development of medical countermeasures for threats like Ebola:
We have no medicines to combat Ebola partly because of the time it takes to develop products—BARDA has been in existence for only ten years; partly because of red tape and bureaucracy—ZMapp was held up for two years by DoD before it funded the program in 2013; partly because of the difficulty of prioritizing countermeasures and biological threats from behind a desk in Washington, DC; and partly, and most recently, because of the fiduciary handcuffs placed on BARDA.

In 2013, the US Congress changed BARDA's budgeting rules so that instead of providing funding for five years, the agency must now work on the basis of annual appropriations; in FY '14, these were a niggardly $255 million for Project BioShield and $415 million for BARDA. The question is, with its budgeting limited to cheeseparing annual handouts, can the agency do the type of long-term planning needed to propel countermeasures for Ebola, or any other agent for the matter, to the market?

The largest Ebola epidemic in history underlines the urgency of creating countermeasures not only for emerging pathogens like pandemic flu but also for known pathogens that behave in new ways in an increasingly interconnected, urbanized and overcrowded world. The fact that outbreaks will occur and they will evolve is entirely predictable. Credible biodefense demands the sustainability that the corporate profit motive can provide. That means that government funding for biodefense must be long term and commensurate with the real level of threat.

Read the full editorial here.