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Bioshield Project Moving Forward Without Law

By Joe Fiorill
Global Security Newswire

BALTIMORE — A top U.S. vaccine development official today expressed hope that President George W. Bush would sign the Project Bioshield initiative into law by month’s end but called the absence of such a law unimportant to the project’s progress (see GSN, May 20).

Bioshield is designed to guarantee a government market for vaccines that drug makers otherwise would see as unprofitable and be reluctant to produce.

The Senate and House of Representatives have passed separate versions of legislation to enact Project Bioshield, but no step has yet been taken to reconcile the chambers’ approaches and allow passage by the full Congress. Bush, who first proposed the project early last year, would be expected to quickly sign the bill if congressional passage occurred.

Despite Bioshield’s statutory nonexistence, Congress has appropriated funds for the project, a fact stressed today by top Health and Human Services Department vaccine adviser Philip Russell during a question-and-answer period after a speech he delivered at the University of Maryland Law School.

“The latest rumor was that Congress would probably act and the president would sign it at the end of this month. I hope so,” said the former head of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and the Army Medical Research and Development Command.

Russell said Health and Human Services could be expected to begin spending appropriated funds within months irrespective of Congress’ progress on the legislation.

“It really isn’t holding us up,” Russell said of the congressional delay. He said proposals already issued would “hopefully” result in the award of a contract for vaccine production by August or September.

Officials have said the first contract likely to be awarded under Bioshield would be for an anthrax vaccine (see GSN, June 8). Russell today placed such a vaccine among top priorities for the project, along with anthrax treatments, a “next-generation” smallpox vaccine, botulinum antitoxin, recombinant plague vaccine and other products.

Russell also underlined the danger of development of dangerous antibiotic-resistant biological agents. “We have about five years to find a first-class solution to that problem,” he said, mentioning mass vaccinations as one such fix.