August 20, 2010 in Nation/World

Feds targeting flu, bioterror

Andrew Zajac Tribune Washington bureau
Upgrades, investments

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius described changes to five key areas of public health defense:

• $822 million for upgrades to speed up production of pandemic flu vaccine

• $678 million to set up at least one private facility that would work under government contract to manufacture new products and help produce vaccines during periods of peak demand

• A $200 million fund to invest in small companies developing promising technologies

• $170 million for improving the methods used by the Food and Drug Administration to measure safety and effectiveness of new products

• $33 million for new teams at the National Institutes for Health to identify promising research and help translate it into useable vaccines and drugs

WASHINGTON – Acknowledging that the development of medical countermeasures against bioterror threats and pandemic flu is lagging, federal authorities Thursday announced a $1.9 billion makeover of the system for identifying and manufacturing drugs and vaccines for public health emergencies.

The overhaul includes manufacturing refinements aimed at cutting the time it takes to produce pandemic flu vaccine and a series of steps aimed at more quickly spotting promising scientific discoveries and getting them to market.

“We aren’t generating enough new products,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, citing “leaks, chokepoints and dead ends” in the development pipeline.

Money for the changes comes from funds initially allocated for the H1N1 flu pandemic. The reforms were detailed in an HHS report released Thursday, along with a separate report by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Both reports were spurred by delays in production of the H1N1 vaccine last year.

The changes are important steps in the right direction, said Brad Spellberg, of the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

“This is a sign that the federal government is starting to get it,” said Spellberg.

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