The Power of Biomedical Research

Article excerpt


The anthrax attacks in the fall of 2001, which occurred soon after the catastrophic terrorist assaults on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, have starkly exposed the vulnerability of the United States and, indeed, the rest of the world to bioterrorism.

In response, the U.S. government has committed an extraordinary sum (nearly $6.0 billion in fiscal year 2003) to develop strategies and countermeasures to protect Americans from further attacks by bioterrorists. This funding has enabled a multifaceted and comprehensive approach to civilian biodefense, involving the Department of Homeland Security and agencies of the Department of Health and Human Services, including the Center for Disease Control, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The resources appropriated to the NIH alone for the conduct of biomedical research leading to the development of countermeasures against agents of bioterror were more than $1.5 billion in fiscal year 2003.

With this infusion of resources to the research enterprise come enormous responsibilities, which are taken very seriously. At NIH, we have rapidly accelerated research devoted to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases caused by potential agents of bioterrorism. While our efforts have focused on the "Category A" agents considered to be the most likely and potentially devastating bioterror threats (smallpox, anthrax, botulinum toxin, plague, tularemia and hemorrhagic fever viruses such as ebola), research is also being conducted on a much longer list of potential bioterror agents that pose significant threats to human health, as well as on chemical and radiological threats.

NIH has long sought to translate basic research findings into real-world interventions, but the path to product development has not been central to our research strategy. The terrible terrorist events in the fall of 2001 compelled us to change our approach. We remain committed to conducting the basic research that has served and will continue to serve as the underpinning of applied research and that approach has long been the strong suit of NIH, through its own scientists, grantees and contractors. However, given our vulnerability to terrorism in the post-September 11 world, we now have taken a proactive leadership role in facilitating the transition from basic to translational research and product development, and now think in terms of time frames that are uncharacteristically brief for biomedical research. In essence, we have developed an expanded paradigm, one in which we strike a balance between the time-honored goals of pursuing basic scientific research as the true foundation of all our objectives, and the need for leadership in the pursuit of applied research to develop rapidlybiodefense countermeasures.

In order to develop rapidly such countermeasures, we must engage our partners in industry in creative ways, and significantly bolster our interactions with the private sector, including both smaller biotechnology companies and large pharmaceutical corporations. …