Monday, April 17, 2006

BioShield is BS

Last week the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota (CIDRAP) reminded us about another Bush administration and Republican boondoggle, BioShield. In fairness, faux Democrat Joe Lieberman had a hand in this one, too, and he is compounding the crime by pushing an even bigger boondoggle, BioShield II (other posts here, here, here and here).

BioShield is the $5 billion plus failed program that begs patriotic Big Pharma to defend the country by making bioterror countermeasures at a guaranteeing a reasonable profit. (BioShield II corrects the error by offering obscene profits.)
The Bush administration acknowledged last week that its $5.6 billion program to build a supply of medical countermeasures against biological weapons and other threats is struggling and needs help, according to a newspaper report.

Alex M. Azar II, a deputy secretary in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), acknowledged that Project BioShield has problems and promised increased efforts to make it work, according to an Apr 7 report in the Washington Post.

Speaking to the health subcommittee of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Azar "conceded that the lack of a strategic plan has left industry guessing about the government's priorities," the Post reported.

The story said corporate executives warned that they need clearer direction from the program to help them decide what kind of research to launch. Executives also complained of delays, bureaucratic inertia, and other problems with the program.

Rep. Anna G. Eschoo, D-Calif., was quoted as saying, "I think what's lacking in all this is a real sense of urgency. I can't help but think we are not prepared if, God forbid, any of these catastrophes were to be visited upon the United States." (CIDRAP News)
Maybe there's no sense of urgency because there isn't any urgency to sense. The bioterrorist threat is a joke, at least compared to avian influenza.

So far almost the only thing BioShield has done is let a huge $877 million contract for 75 million doses of an anthrax vaccine to VaxGen, a company whose only other product failed and who had no expertise in making recombinant vaccines. The company admits they are already at least a year behind schedule. I'll be surprised if we see any vaccine from these guys, ever. Which is not as bad as it sounds, because it is almost impossible to imagine what we would do with 75 million doses (enough for 25 million people) of a vaccine for a non-contagious disease that you wouldn't use pre-exposure.

The whole thing has a bad odor to it. Time for an investigation of the whole BioShield program. Its initials say it all.