With ‘much worse’ threats lurking, Plan unites agencies to end pandemics within a decade

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Warning of the risk of a “myopic focus on coronaviruses to the exclusion of all other pathogens” as “other microbial threats to human health could prove far worse,” the bipartisan Commission on Biodefense recommended comprehensive steps for agencies and private sector partners to take with the ambitious goal of eliminating the threat of pandemics within 10 years.

“Despite all the turmoil and heartache of the past two years, there is hope. We have developed a vaccine in less than a year, pushing technology and innovation beyond what was thought possible, and we have created new treatments and diagnostics,” the commission said in its new report. Athena’s Agenda: Advancing the Apollo Program for Biodefense. “Yet, although we have stemmed the tide and averted an even greater catastrophe, we may not be so lucky next time. Whether natural, accidental or deliberate, infectious disease threats are increasing in frequency and severity. It’s about when, not if, the next pandemic will arrive. »

The committee published The Apollo Program for Biodefense: Winning the Race Against Biological Threats in February 2021, detailing ambitious initiatives to develop and deploy the technologies needed to defend against all biological threats and end the era of pandemic threats by 2030. In October, the report Saving Sisyphus: advanced biosensing for the 21st century said collaborative action is needed now to replace an insufficient BioWatch system used by the Department of Homeland Security.

The Apollo program is based on multiple tracks of “breakthrough solutions,” public-private partnerships, strong international relationships, “sustained bipartisan support and unwavering leadership,” the commission said in its new Athena’s Agenda report. The program aims to detect new pathogens, “continuously trace them from the source” and distribute rapid point-of-use tests “to every household in the country within days of detection” to foster knowledge of the disease. real-time situation, while advancing “integrated integration”. innovation ecosystem that encourages high-risk, high-reward research” where success will depend “on aggressive actions to transcend current institutional silos and technical constraints, while avoiding historic cycles of crisis and policies ‘far from the eyes, far from the heart.

“The Commission remains convinced that COVID-19 is not a once-in-a-century pandemic. Another biological event will occur much sooner than that,” the report states, noting that the risk of natural pandemics increases with decreasing quality of wildlife habitat, exploitation of wildlife through hunting and trade, and advances in genetic biotechnology that “are dual-use technologies.” which could lead to accidental, unintentional and deliberate misuse by creating deadly pathogens or upsetting ecological balances.

“Examples include the accidental release of smallpox from a laboratory in the UK, the engineering of a deadly strain of flu by a professor in the Netherlands, the inadvertent self-injection of Ebola by a senior scientist in Russia and the unintentional release of Brucellosis from an industrial facility in China.

Agenda of Athena recommends that the White House, Congress, and the federal government fully implement the A national plan for biodefense published in 2015, including “prioritizing innovation over incrementalism in the development of medical countermeasures”, “fully prioritizing, funding and encouraging the medical countermeasures enterprise”, “reforming contracts from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority”, “encouraging the development of point-of-care diagnostics”, “developing a 21st century environmental detection system”, “reviewing and revising the Select Agent program” and “leading the way building a functional and agile global public health response apparatus”.

The Apollo program for biodefense or its equivalent would be implemented in all government agencies supported by adequate funding over several years, and the National Security Council and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy would produce a national strategy of biodefense science and technology, the report continues.

Congress, the NSC and the Federal Emergency Management Agency would be responsible for producing “a comprehensive mid- and post-crisis report on the continuity of government” during COVID-19 while Congress, the Food and Drug Administration and Health and Human Services would “reengineer regulatory processes and policies to authorize or approve innovative technologies before, during, and after biological events” and “modernize and expedite approval pathways for platform technologies to produce countermeasures.” -medical measures” by integrating lessons learned from COVID-19.

Congress, HHS and the U.S. Postal Service — which distributed free COVID test kits as part of the Biden administration’s plan to supply all households — would build on that experience by developing a strategy and plan to implementation for the distribution of home tests and therapies during future pandemics. . The White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would “develop a crisis and risk communications strategy that builds public trust.”

On the technology side of the agenda, Congress, HHS, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Agriculture would be tasked with developing “at least one candidate vaccine for each of the 26 viral families that infect humans” as well. that a “suite of broad-spectrum antiviral drugs. Congress and HHS would “strategize for the rapid development of a virus-specific antiviral during an emerging epidemic” and, with the DoD, “would review the previous advanced manufacturing capability efforts for medical countermeasures technologies” and “would expand advanced manufacturing capability for platform technologies for medical countermeasures. The USDA would join the effort to “produce a research and development plan for needle-free methods of drug and vaccine delivery.” The agencies would also focus on increasing sequencing capability and capacity in the United States, including the development of affordable portable sequencing, and “further developing the ability to detect infections with minimally invasive methods and noninvasive” as well as “advancing massively multiplexed detection capabilities” and “developing a plan for the rapid development, approval, scale-up, acquisition, supply and distribution of diagnostic tests at the point of use.

Congress, HHS, DoD, USDA, DOI, and the Department of Veterans Affairs would invest in digital pathogen surveillance with enhanced information sharing to include the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. DHS would work with Congress and agencies to establish a secure national public health data system, and Congress would authorize the CDC’s Center for Epidemic Prediction and Analysis beyond its initial start-up funding in the era. COVID.

Agenda recommends that Congress, HHS, DoD, USDA and DHS assess biomonitoring capabilities across the federal government, with NASA and the Department of Labor helping to develop personal protective equipment new generation. The Departments of Education and Transportation would work with DHS, HHS, and Congress on research of pathogen transmission in built environments, and DoD, FEMA, and GSA would help develop and implement technologies that can reduce the viability and transmission of pathogens in built environments. The National Scientific Advisory Board for Biosafety, HHS, DoD, and DOE would “review the adequacy of biosafety and biosecurity standards, practices, and oversight to identify gaps, needs, and improved approaches” .

Congress, HHS, CDC, USDA would address biosafety and laboratory biosafety challenges while a strategy would be developed to screen DNA synthesis vendors and users. Entities would be required to purchase genetic material from verified suppliers.

“We envision a time when people will look back and wonder how we let infectious diseases wreak havoc on our society – how we tolerated seasonal flu, not to mention viruses like COVID-19,” the statement said. commission.

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