The Pandora Report 9.20.13

Highlights include anthrax anti-toxin, the Pentagon and Ebola, antibiotics and global pandemics,  MERS baffling researchers, and a H7N9 vaccine. Happy Friday!

HHS replenishes nation’s supply of anthrax antitoxin

Rest assured, in case of an anthrax attack Uncle Sam has you covered. HHS, through BioShield, has renewed contracts with GlaxoSmithKline, replenishing our nation’s expiring supply of inhalation anthrax anti-toxin in the Strategic National Stockpile. Under the renewed contracts, we’ll be covered until 2018. The renewed contract also include a surge capacity, lest an anthrax attack occur and boosted production of anti-toxin is necessary. Believe it or not, surge capacity was not built into previous contracts.

KOAM – “To create surge capacity, the contracts allow HHS to place future delivery orders if an anthrax attack occurs, in addition to replenishing the current stockpile as needed over the next five years. The cost of future orders would be determined on a case-by-case basis, up to a maximum of $350 million per order. To receive a future order, the company must have antitoxin that is eligible for emergency use authorization or is FDA-approved at the time of the order. The replenishment and surge capacity are part of a governmentwide effort to prepare the nation to respond to security threats from chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons. Federal agencies, including HHS agencies and the departments of Homeland Security, Defense, and Veterans Affairs coordinate closely to ensure programs and requirements are aligned.”

Pentagon puts Ebola virus on bio-threat research list

The Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) is actively soliciting research in therapeutics development against a slew of deadly bacterial and viral threat agents, ranging from our favorite Ebola to Burkholderia pseudomallei, the causative agent of melioidosis. Drug companies and the US government have had a tumultuous relationship when it comes to developing vaccine/therapeutics for select agents. The solicitation is encouraging, if only as a recognition of the critical importance of researching these pathogens (if we do say so ourselves).

USA Today – “DTRA officials, the document says, are concerned about the potential use of ‘aerosolized filoviruses or alphaviruses’ that could be delivered through the air. Some of the illnesses, such as Meloidosis, affect people in areas where the Pentagon is devoting more attention. For example, a contingent of Marines is now based in Darwin, a city in northern Australia. While there are some vaccines that can treat some of these conditions, the document says, ‘they have inherent limitations and a suitably effective vaccine has to be approved.’ That’s why it’s critical for more research to be conducted to find ways to prevent and treat them, DTRA says.”

Antibiotics Could Cause the Next Global Pandemic

The invention of antibiotics was understandably a big deal – before penicillin, scraping your knee could kill you. Now, we take for granted that infections are cured by a visit to the doctor and a prescription for antibiotics. Which is why this recent CDC report is so concerning.

PolicyMic – “In a press briefing about his recent research, Dr. Tom Frieden, the CDC’s director, warned ‘If we are not careful, we will soon be in a post-antibiotic era … And for some patients and for some microbes, we are already there.’ The confidence in his statement reflected the very first hard numbers for the incidence, deaths, and cost of all the major resistant organisms gathered by the CDC. The urgent worry gripping national health organizations like the CDC is that our current ‘gaps in knowledge’ and continued inadvertent strengthening of antibiotic-resistant bacteria could lead to the evolution of new vicious, contagious diseases with no current ways to combat them.”

MERS virus transmission continues to baffle

Maybe it wasn’t the camels after all. Scientists working together in the UK and Saudi Arabia are having difficulty determining the MERS virus’ route of tranmission. Yes, some camels possess the antibodies, yet most of those who contracted MERS had no contact with animals. Researchers are in agreement about one thing – the virus outbreak’s “focal point” is Riyadh. With hajj occurring next month, discovering more about the virus is becoming increasingly important.

Aljazeera – “The genetic history of the virus suggests repeat infections may have occurred since then, but what the animal source was, or is, remains unclear, it said. Tests are being carried on mammals in Saudi Arabia ranging from camels and bats to goats. The cluster in al-Hasa, in contrast, shows that viral strains there were closely related, which is consistent with spread from human to human. The samples in Riyadh have a broad genetic diversity, the paper said. This could mean that the virus is being transmitted through an animal source that is continuously being brought in from elsewhere, it said.

NIH-funded pandemic preparation: Baylor investigates bird flu vaccine

Researchers are testing vaccines against H7N9, in case the virus develops effective human-to-human transmission. H7N9 struck China in March of this year, infecting 135 and killing 44. With a fatality rate of nearly 1/3 in a totally naive population, the virus definitely has pandemic potential. H7N9 may reemerge again in the cooler fall and winter seasons.

MedScape – “Funded by the National Institutes of Health, the study being conducted at Baylor will recruit up to 1,000 adults nationally who are 19 to 64 years old and in good health. Study participants will receive different dosages of an investigational vaccine given with or without one of two adjuvants, which are substances added to a vaccine to increase the body’s immune response. Researchers at each site will gather safety information, risks and benefits of vaccinations and the effectiveness of the vaccines to trigger an immune response.”

(image: LA Department of Public Health)

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