groundswell within the nation’s R&D efforts and to establish a new paradigm for preparedness.”
He said that his office had been mandated to find ways to bring disparate partners together into mutually beneficial collaborations: government with academia, government with the private sector; federal with state and local partners; big business with small business; military with civilian.
The office planned to bring scientists, engineers, intelligence, and law enforcement groups together to focus not only on research and development, but also on testing, validation, and evaluation; on procurement and distribution; on concepts of operation; on all vital technologies necessary to defend the homeland. He noted that the office had a unique mandate within the bio-defense arena, and a unique opportunity. “I am constantly reminded that as we seek to guard our people and agriculture against biological attack,” he said, ”we do so by strengthening the resources and technologies that ultimately contribute to our public health infrastructure.” An improved arsenal of diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines; better protective equipment for first responders; and a national disease surveillance system—all help improve the public health while offering powerful deterrents to biological attack. “This National Academy of Sciences symposium,” he said, “could not have come at a better time for us.”
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
Dr. Heilman began by saying she would offer some perspective on the National Institutes of Health (NIH), especially on their vaccine programs, and then focus more specifically on NIAID’s biodefense activities. She would refer often to partnerships, she said, because “one of our assets at NIH is our history of partnering.”
NIH supports several but not all aspects of the vaccine R&D pipeline, she said, and this necessitates partnerships with other entities that bring needed skills to vaccine development. This development process is long and tedious, she said, both because vaccines are difficult biologics and because regulatory hurdles slow the process. Thus, partnerships make both technical and financial sense. About 90 percent of NIH’s budget goes off-campus to support the activities of academic and business researchers; the balance covers intramural research programs and support functions at NIH.
Vaccine development requires information that is difficult to produce before decisions can be made, she said. Researchers have to understand the pathogen, its components, and how it interacts with the body. Only when those questions are answered, can researchers begin identifying targets and move from those targets toward making the tools that will be needed for actual development of a vaccine.