« Home | Universities becoming more involved in bioterroris... » | Anthrax Vaccine Supplier Moves Closer to Initial P... » | Protecting the Anthrax Killers » | Emergent Biosolutions IPO Next Week » | Dynavax Hopes to Kill Many Flus with One Shot » | Plaintiffs Being Sought to Challenge Relaunch of M... » | Senators Seek Audit of $18B in Biodefense Spending... » | FDA Halts Test of Anthrax Vaccine » | Vaxgen says Anthrax vaccine trial delayed » | UK Soldier wins Gulf War Syndrome case, despite no... »

Burr bill may be taken up in lame-duck session
If held, it will keep its support, adviser says

By Mary M. Shaffrey

Though Republicans still control the congressional agenda, they can't do much without widespread Democratic support.

And one of the big items expected to get consideration this week during the lame-duck session is a bill sponsored by Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., that would establish a new federal agency to combat bioterrorism - the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who will be the majority leader come January, has said he would like to see bioterrorism and pandemic flu-related legislation taken up before Congress adjourns for the year.

Burr's bill, commonly referred to as BARDA, would create a new position within the Department of Health and Human Services that would be solely responsible for the oversight of vaccine production.

This individual, who would require Senate confirmation, would administer a billion-dollar fund for the next two years that would aid the development of vaccines.

Bob Kadlec, a bio-defense and public-health consultant, used to work for Burr. He said that Hurricane Katrina demonstrated the need to have one person in charge, and though the bill has many components, this is perhaps the most critical.

"This was something that (has been) left in flux," Kadlec said. "It's important to have one identifiable person in charge."

Brad Smith, a senior associate at the Center for BioSecurity at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, has followed the bill closely since Burr introduced it in 2005. He said that it would deal with the concerns of pharmaceutical-industry officials, who have complained that they did not have "a strong partnership" with the federal government as industry was developing vaccines.

But Michael Greenberger, director of the Center for Health and Homeland Security at the University of Maryland, said that it's a bad idea to pass the bioterrorism bill now.

"It would be a mistake to pass this now in a lame-duck Congress. It would be the wrong approach. It needs a more thorough review," he said.

Passing the bill now is "like putting a Band-Aid on a mortal wound," said Greenberger, who recommended fixing existing pieces of legislation before trying to create something new.

BARDA has already passed the House of Representatives, by a voice vote before the October recess. The Senate version is attached to a pandemic-flu bill - also promoted by Burr - that needs to be reauthorized before Congress adjourns for the year.

It's not clear whether the House would take up the new version of the legislation, if it passes the Senate. The House is expected to take a recess on Wednesday and return in early December.

There's little motivation for many House Republicans to stick around for anything other than necessary appropriations bills - particularly those who lost in midterm elections.

Smith said that if the bioterrorism bill is not taken up this year, he expects it to be one of the first items discussed when Democrats take over in January.

"All along this has been a bipartisan issue," he said. "If for whatever reason it doesn't get done in time (this year), there will still be critical bipartisan support."

• Mary M. Shaffrey can be reached in Washington at 202-662-7672 or at mshaffrey@wsjournal.com.