veterinarians is a major issue, she said, not only to help establish infectivity models, but also to address animal diseases and agroterrorism. “The manpower issue is tremendous,” she concluded.
The government is making efforts to address this issue. Dr. Heilman said that DHHS does have a targeted initiative for training in the area of bio-defense. A second effort was to identify regional centers of excellence that would partner with public health service systems within the region and with the CDC. Those partnerships could be regarded as additional surge capacity, she said, should the need occur. “It’s better to partner now than during an event,” she said, adding that the partnerships would also form units to train people on site in various skill and techniques.
Marc Stanley, director of the NIST ATP program, referred to the long history of the ATP in sponsoring government partnerships with both industry and academia, and suggested the use of this vehicle for bioterrorism as well. “If the effort of the government is to get advanced technology commercialized quickly,” he said, “it seems to me having a viable program tested over eleven years would be a unique way to utilize those capabilities without having to reinvent the wheel.” He also suggested that the effort make use of existing relationships in the DNA diagnostic field between NIH, NIST, and Sandia Laboratories.
Dr. Heilman responded that a partnership for DNA sequencing had already been developed along the lines the questioner suggested, with the goals of sharing sequencing information, identifying priorities, and finding the best people.
With regard to the question about NIST, she said that NIAID was working with a DoD organization called the Chemical, Biological, and Radiological Technology Alliance (CBRTA). “In some ways they have been able to solve the IP issue,” she said, “and have allowed interaction along the whole spectrum of biodefense. It’s a fascinating concept to see whether we can interact with them as they’re doing their mission for the DoD.”
A questioner referred to the expense of developing drugs by current processes, and asked whether new techniques such as robotics would reduce the cost and time of drug development, and what public-private mechanisms might advance development of these new robots. Dr. Cassell said that the “short answer is that it hasn’t yet reduced the price, and the reason is that the new technologies being used are more expensive. Unfortunately the science is expensive, and biologics, because they are more complex, are more costly.” She said it is also appropriate to focus on the value of the outcomes—how many lives will be saved and how much health care costs decline by applying new discoveries. She did say that the failure rate in the drug discovery process is likely to decline because of new data from microbial genome sequences, the human genome, and pharmacotoxicology. “We’ll be able to better predict potential toxicities before we actually try a new substance in animals and humans. But we’re not quite there yet.”