Prompted by the recent anthrax scare in the US, the Bush administration is to enhance bioterrorism research programs at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

The initiative arose, in part, from “a recent outpouring of ideas from concerned academic and industrial scientists on ways to combat potential agents of bioterrorism,” Health and Human Services secretary, Tommy Thompson, said in a statement, adding that the intention is for the NIAID to be able to put many of those new ideas into practice.

NIAID director, Anthony Fauci (see page 10), says, “Our offices have been deluged with calls from scientists who want to help. At scientific meetings and conferences I am often approached by researchers with promising ideas and a desire to contribute to the fight against bioterrorism.”

NIAID is the main beneficiary of National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding for bioterrorism and in FY01 received $36 million for this area of investigation from the total $47 million that NIH earmarked for bioterrorism. Prior to 11 September, the President's FY02 budget requested an increase to $93 million for NIH bioterrorism research, of which $81.6 million would go to the NIAID. Those sums are now expected to rise further as a result of the terrorist attacks.

Among the areas outlined in the new initiative are increased research into 'high-priority Category A' biological diseases, such as anthrax, botulism, plague, smallpox, tularemia and viral hemorrhagic fevers. More research into anthrax vaccines, including what the NIAID views as one of the most promising types, a recombinant protective antigen vaccine. Increased research into drug development and diagnostics for bioterrorism pathogens, and more technology grants to enable scientists to either purchase new genetic sequencing equipment or to collaborate with other scientists who have the technology.

At the heart of many of the programs is a drive to encourage partnerships between academia and pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. A quicker response to funding applications for bioterrorism research is also promised. The NIAID hopes to reduce decision-making time from the current 9 or 10 months to 6 months after it receives the application. A web page listing new bioterrorism research funding opportunities can be seen at