Biodefense Gets Its Billion

The stimulus package adds $900 million to the biodefense gravy train, which has received billions in federal funds since 2001. About $420 million of the money would go to the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response within the Department of Health and Human Services for developing and manufacturing vaccines to counter pandemic flu. Another $430 million would go to the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), a new HHS agency set up 2 years ago to protect citizens in the event of a terrorist attack involving biological or chemical agents. None of the new funds are expected to support basic research in biodefense, which might disappoint some scientists.

While the biodefense enterprise is awash in cash, experts have repeatedly told the government that BARDA's $100 million annual budget is too tiny for its ambitious mission: developing and acquiring vaccines against a host of deadly infectious diseases. “The magnitude and the scale of the money needed for that task is enormous,” says Janet Shoemaker of the American Society for Microbiology. She says the inclusion of dollars for BARDA in the stimulus package is a sign that some members of Congress “want to keep it going and help it overcome the difficulties it has had in getting started.”