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U-T San Diego Commentary: Lack of Preparedness to Ebola Is Symptom of Larger Disease

November 6, 2014
Last week, the U-T San Diego published an op-ed by Betrand Liang, CEO of Pfenex Inc., a BIO member, arguing that our current lack of vaccines and therapies for Ebola is a symptom of a larger problem. That problem, Liang argues, is a lack of funding for critical biodefense programs which Congress passed in 2004 as a way to prepare us for biological agents like anthrax, smallpox, and Ebola, as well as chemical, radiological, and nuclear threats.
This effort — called Project Bioshield — has been enormously successful; it included a 10-year appropriation of $5.6 billion to purchase these medical countermeasures. A key component included a multiyear appropriation for procurement and R&D, shielding these biodefense efforts from the unpredictable annual budget cycles in Washington. The federal government has now stockpiled millions of doses of vaccines, antivirals and antibiotics. We continue to improve vaccines and treatments for these diseases and have developed advanced manufacturing capacity in case of an epidemic or terror attack.

The dollars associated with the legislation expired in 2013. While a reauthorization of the original bill was passed, the funding available is now subject to yearly rather than multiyear appropriation. The development of critical national security medical countermeasures has now been subjected to the whims of our polarized Congress.

The reauthorization of Project BioShield last year authorized $2.8 billion over five years, but appropriators only funded the program with $255 million for FY 2014, and future funding remains uncertain. This uncertainty can discourage private sector investment into medical countermeasure (MCM) research against threats like Ebola, because MCM development takes many years and is inherently complex, risky, and capital-intensive. Companies investing in this space need to know whether their federal partner will be there for them throughout this process, not just for the current fiscal year.

Read the full op-ed here.