Giving Full Measure to Countermeasures: Addressing Problems in the DoD Program to Develop Medical Countermeasures Against Biological Warfare Agents


In recent years, substantial efforts have been initiated to develop new drugs, vaccines, and other medical interventions against biological agents that could be used in bioterrorist attacks against civilian populations.  According to this congressionally mandated report, to successfully develop these drugs, vaccines, and other medical interventions against biowarfare agents, Congress should authorize the creation of a new agency within the Office of the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). 

DoD's existing medical biodefense activities, currently carried out by several units in the department, should be transferred along with their funding and personnel to a new Medical Biodefense Agency.  To minimize redundancies and take advantage of new knowledge gained through these efforts, the new Medical Biodefense Agency should coordinate its activities with the National Institutes of Health. 

If DoD fails to make sufficient progress toward an effective program for developing medical countermeasures within three years, then that responsibility should be partially or completely transferred out of DoD, added the committee that wrote the report.  However, because protecting troops in the field and ensuring their continued capacity to operate may require different research priorities and products, the agency should keep its efforts focused on meeting unique DoD needs.

The committee recommended that Congress should improve liability protection for those who develop and manufacture these products, to stimulate willingness to invest in new research and development for biowarfare protection.  The report also identifies other challenges--such as the need for appropriate animal models and laboratories equipped with high-level biosafety protections--that will require attention if DoD efforts to develop new medical countermeasures are to be successful.