Highlights include the H7N9 update, funding for the NBAF, using flight patterns to stop pandemics, North Korean biosurveillance, and why biotech companies matter. Happy Friday!
Update: 43 cases, 10 fatalities
H7N9 continues apace in China, with the total number of cases up to 43. The virus is especially difficult to track because birds are asymptomatic carriers. While the number of laboratory-confirmed cases is closely monitored, it’s possible there are many more human cases going unnoticed due to a milder disease presentation. Still, there have been no confirmed cases of person-to-person transmission, and scientists in the US have just received the first batch of the virus, and are working on developing a diagnostic.
New York Times – “A report on three of the first patients in China to contract a new strain of bird flu paints a grim portrait of severe pneumonia, septic shock and other complications that damaged the brain, kidney and other organs. All three died…During a telephone news briefing on Thursday, Nancy J. Cox, of the influenza division at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that several features of H7N9 were particularly troubling: it causes severe disease, it has genetic traits that help it infect mammals and humans probably have no resistance to it.”
The National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility has received the strongest funding endorsement to date from the Obama Administration, with $714 million included for the lab in the President’s FY2014 budget. The lab is slated to replace Plum Island as the nation’s premier research center on agricultural pathogens.
Wall Street Journal – “Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas said the recommendation signals the administration’s support for building the $1.15 billion lab, which will study large animal diseases and develop measures to protect the nation’s food supply…Roberts said the proposal will require additional financial commitments from Kansas, which will be worked out by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and legislators…Kansas agreed when it was awarded the project to contribute 20 percent of the cost of construction. Thus far, the state has issued $105 million in bonds and $35 million from the Kansas Bioscience Authority.”
Researchers in Toronto, after studying the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, developed basic guidelines for passenger screenings during a pandemic. The results are relatively intuitive – screening passengers as they leave a region in which the pathogen is spreading is more useful than screening them upon arrival at their final destination.
Medical News – “Dr. Khan used his experience analyzing air traffic patterns to review the flights of the nearly 600,000 people who flew out of Mexico in May 2009, the start of the H1N1 pandemic. He found that exit screening would have caused the least disruption to international air traffic. In fact, all air travelers at risk of H1N1 infection could have been assessed as they left one of Mexico’s 36 international airports. Exit screening at just six airports in Mexico coupled with entry screening at two airports in Asia (Shanghai and Tokyo) would have allowed for screening of about 90 per cent of the at-risk travelers worldwide.”
Anything that is related to biological warfare and is also called the Kracken is automatically included in the Pandora Report. Here, the Kracken is a 15ft high thermal, acoustic, and infrared sensor.
Baltimore Sun – “While the danger of missiles is more pressing, Army officials said developing better capabilities to detect biological warfare threats has also been a priority for the past six years. The Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense is working with APG’s Edgewood Chemical Biological Center on the program, which is called the Joint United States Forces Korea Portal and Integrated Threat Recognition, or JUPITR. The program will also serve to detect naturally occurring biological threats. A key part of the program is the Kraken, which Army officials described as ‘a massive, multifunctional, all-seeing sensor suite designed to rapidly establish a defensive perimeter.'”
Collaboration between the biotech industry and the US government has been notoriously difficult, starting with the threat of breaking Bayer’s patent on Cipro during the Amerithrax attacks and continuing into today. While relations have improved, and the hurdles to a successful working relationship are significant, we can’t afford to not work on this.
Genetic Engingeering and Biotechnology News – “Despite product success Acambis has had a bumpy ride with its funding. ‘Any biotech that believes developing products to serve public health emergencies is access to easy money needs to think again,’ Dr. Lewin cautioned. ‘Collaborating with the U.S. government is different from working in the biotech world. You have to produce a proposal for the government to digest, a cost of around $400,000, and if you don’t get the contract that’s all money down the drain.'”