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5 December 2013 11:26 am ,
Vol. 342 ,
An animal rights group known as the Nonhuman Rights Project filed lawsuits in three New York courts this week in an...
Researchers have been hot on the trail of the elusive Denisovans, a type of ancient human known only by their DNA and...
Thousands of scientists in the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) are about to lose their jobs as a result of the...
Dyslexia, a learning disability that hinders reading, hasn't been associated with deficits in vision, hearing, or...
Exotic, elusive, and dangerous, snakes have fascinated humankind for millennia. They can be hard to find, yet their...
Researchers have sequenced and analyzed the first two snake genomes, which represent two evolutionary extremes. The...
Snake venoms are remarkably complex mixtures that can stun or kill prey within minutes. But more and more researchers...
At age 30, Dutch biologist Freek Vonk has built up a respectable career as a snake scientist. But in his home country,...
- 5 December 2013 11:26 am , Vol. 342 , #6163
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U.S. to Intensify Defense Against Infectious Threats
19 August 2010 5:05 pm
A review released today by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) could lead to major changes in the way the country prepares for public health emergencies, such as pandemics and acts of bioterrorism. Meanwhile, a new study by the the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) has suggested a range of measures—both short and long term—that the United States can adopt to better prepare for the next influenza pandemic.
The Public Health Emergency Medical Countermeasures Enterprise Review, released today at a press conference by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, concludes that despite the massive investments in biodefense after 9/11 and the 2001 anthrax attacks, the United States is still way too slow when it comes to responding to emerging health threats. To change that, the plan proposes a series of measures to help academic scientists whose research promises to help fend off infectious threats, and more support for companies seeking to bring new drugs and vaccines to the market.
The review says that the federal government should become a "strategic partner" for scientists and business with good ideas to safeguard the nation. Among the proposals are one or more Centers of Innovation for Advanced Development and Manufacturing—perhaps founded in collaboration with the Pentagon—which would provide assistance to companies and government agencies trying to clear the hurdles on the path to new products. The Food and Drug Administration will be better equipped to analyze the potential of new discoveries and smooth the regulatory pathway to bring them to fruition.
Meanwhile, PCAST analyzed the lessons of the H1N1 flu pandemic, which officially ended last week. Although vaccine companies did eventually produce an effective vaccine against the new virus, it took half a year for the first doses to become available and 38 weeks before the United States had enough vaccine to cover half its population. Had the virus been more lethal, those delays would have resulted in huge loss of life.
In its report (pdf), PCAST recommends a series of measures that could shorten the critical time between the emergence of a new flu virus and the day the first vaccines are released. Among the recommendations: Surveillance for newly emerging flu strains should be boosted, so-called seed strains for pandemic vaccines should be developed faster, by preparing virus "backbones" in advance, and the cumbersome and often inaccurate potency tests for new vaccines need to be improved.
All of that could be done in the next few years, the panel says, but in the long run, investments are needed to do away with the outdated manufacturing process, in which the vaccine virus is grown in chicken eggs. The panel also says the elusive hunt for a so-called universal flu vaccine—which would protect against all strains—should be intensified.