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Government contracts focus on vaccines, emergency response.

THE DEFENSE THREAT Reduction Agency has awarded several vaccine contracts under a program designed to protect against genetically engineered biological weapons.

The $1.5 billion five-year program focuses on defenses against intracellular bacterial pathogens and hemorrhagic fever.

The Defense Department transferred management of its science and technology office from the Army to the Defense Threat Reduction Agency in 2003.

Since October 2006, 13 contracts have been awarded to industry and academia, ranging in value from $2.7 million to $28 million.

The Harvard University School of Public Health was awarded a $2.7 million contract for an intercellular pathogen countermeasure. Stanford University received a $7.1 million contract for discovering and validating targets against pathogens and toxins.

Affinium Pharmaceuticals, Toronto, was awarded $4.7 million for new tularemia therapeutics. Tularemia is a Centers for Disease Control category A biological agent.

Four contracts were awarded for hemorrhagic fever therapeutics or antiviral compounds. Hemorrhagic fever is also listed as a CDC category A threat, and is ranked among the deadliest microbes.

Future initiatives include developing detection and deterrent technologies, and running civil-military exercises to improve interagency planning for homeland security emergencies.

Meanwhile, both the Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security continue to acquire equipment and sensors to aid in detection and prevention of a biological attack.

The Department of Homeland Security has awarded development contracts to U.S. Genomics, Woburn, Mass., for an airborne pathogen detection and identification system using a DNA mapping technology, said a company statement. Awarded under DHS's Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency, the contracts are valued at $23.7 million.

U.S. Genomics in 2006 signed a teaming agreement with Northrop Grumman to commercialize the technology.

The Department of Homeland Security, in cooperation with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control, has already developed a sensor program, called Biowatch. It consists of an early warning system that can "detect trace amounts of biological materials in the air," a DHS fact sheet said. Biowatch has deployed thousands of detection systems since 2003. It was unclear if the U.S. Genomics technology would be used for Biowatch.

Biosensors are an important part of first defense, said Barbara Billauer, president of the Foundation for Law and Science Centers and a public health expert. However, "the incidence of false positives in labs is very high," she said.

One of the biosensors in a Washington D.C. mall detected tularemia in the air, which is one of the original CDC category A threats, Billauer said. Yet after being alerted, officials did not close the mall down because they were afraid of false positives. Luckily, it turned out to be just that, but there are not yet enough reliable answers, Billauer asserted.

Stout Solutions, Encinitas, Calif., has developed a different kind of big detection system, called First Watch. It monitors data from ambulances and hospitals, as well as police and fire departments to find abnormal patterns, a company document said. Stout believes First Watch can better alert officials to outbreaks because "law enforcement, fire and emergency medical services are exceptionally time-sensitive" and can "identify trends as they emerge" rather than waiting for lab results from an air sample, the company document said. The system is already used in 16 states and has detected influenza in Texas, Virginia and Oklahoma, the company said.

The Defense Department is taking a different approach to biosecurity to protect military personnel.

The Air Force recently awarded a contract to Battelle, Columbus, Ohio, for a mobile biodefense lab, specifically for use by active duty medical workers, so they can identify potential infectious diseases at a safe distance from a busy hospital ward, said John Wade, vice president and manager of Battelle's joint and interagency marketing group. The trailer allows medical officers to detect pathogens in water, air, food and clinical samples. The contract includes seven trailers, with each lab valued at approximately $80,000. The trailer will be parked behind military hospitals at different Air Force bases, starting with McConnell Air Force Base, Kan.

Several other well-known contractors are developing biodefense technologies.

DuPont, known for making Kevlar body armor, opened a new office four years ago to pursue government and military work, said Jim DiClementi, DuPont senior business development manager.

The company is offering biosecurity products, which have mostly been bought by state agencies and civilian organizations.

For personal protection, DuPont has made a line of biosecurity kits to help stem the spread of bacteria and viruses. The original package--containing antiseptics and disinfectants--is called the "farm biosecurity kit," and was developed for those in contact with infected poultry to fight avian influenza, DiClementi said. The United Nations bought the kits and distributed them in 81 countries, he added.

Next, DuPont created the personal biosecurity kit and the site kit, both of which are primarily meant for use in the office to protect employees. The company recently closed a sale with a government agency to stockpile both the personal and site kits, DiClementi said, but he declined to name the customer.

The biosecurity packages include a range of chemical solutions that can kill Hepatitis A, B and C, salmonella, HIV and influenza, based on in-vitro tests, said DiClementi. Contained in the site kit are coveralls that protect against dry microbes and resist viral penetration, an infrared thermometer to detect infection, goggles, gloves and respirators.

Individual respiration systems are a good idea, said Billauer. If there is one paradigm the United States should follow to protect its citizens, it's that of the Israeli government, she said. Every Israeli citizen is provided with a respiratory apparatus, she explained.

DuPont is also testing a chem-bio suit for first responders and military personnel. A prototype was shown to the Defense Department and has passed testing, DiClementi said.

The Department of Health and Human Services has purchased DuPont protective equipment, including the company's Tyvek protective suits, he added.
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Title Annotation:BIOWARFARE
Comment:Government contracts focus on vaccines, emergency response.(BIOWARFARE)
Author:Wagner, Breanne
Publication:National Defense
Date:Jun 1, 2007
Words:978
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