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US funds vaccine centers for biodefense

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has allocated $400 million for three Centers for Innovation in Advanced Development and Manufacturing for vaccine production, but some are concerned that excessive focus on influenza may leave the nation less prepared against other threats. A 2010 report prepared by HHS proposed establishing such centers to accelerate development of medical countermeasures against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats, develop new vaccine production technologies, and enable rapid manufacture of existing vaccines. On June 19, the HHS Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority announced allocations of $163 million for a center in Maryland, $60 million for a center in North Carolina and $176 million for a center in Texas. Each center partners with companies—Novartis's vaccine facility in Holly Springs, North Carolina, GlaxoSmithKline's Vaccines of Marietta, Pennsylvania, and Emergent BioSolutions Manufacturing in Baltimore, with researchers at Texas A&M (College Station), Michigan State University (Flint), Duke (Durham) and North Carolina State (Raleigh)—to accelerate response to future pandemics.

Maj. Gen. (ret.) Philip Russell, former director of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, an expert consulted by HHS, expressed disappointment in the implementation. “They combined influenza preparedness with biodefense against very strong recommendations from me and a lot of other people,” he says. “They're totally unrelated problems, and totally unrelated issues.” When this plan was devised, more funds were available for preventing flu outbreak than for bioterrorism, making this emphasis an expedient strategy. However, he believes that supporting efforts to mass produce and distribute flu vaccine will do little to facilitate R&D against novel threats. “We envisioned a single organization totally dedicated to advanced development and manufacturing of biodefense vaccines,” says Russell. “But it seems like technical capabilities were secondary to lobbying power and decision making.”

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Eisenstein, M. US funds vaccine centers for biodefense. Nat Biotechnol 30, 808 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1038/nbt0912-808

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