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Consumer Reports


U.S. military has gaps in bio-defense

http://www.jewishworldreview.com | (UPI) WASHINGTON The military has some serious gaps in its ability to protect and treat soldiers for the 50 most common biological weapons, the commander of the Army's Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases said Wednesday.

"There are holes in our list of agents we think are classic biological threats," Col. Erik Henchal told reporters.

There are more than 50 public health threats that can effect military readiness. Among the top concerns in Iraq -- around which U.S. troops are building up to prepare for a possible war -- is botulinum toxin.

"That's a ... threat that I wish we have more in our medical toolbox for," Henchal said.

The CIA told Congress in 1996 that Iraq is believed to have produced at least 33 to 44 pounds dried botulinum toxin, which is also the main ingredient for Botox, the popular cosmetic treatment.

"It's fairly easy top prepare in liquid and very difficult to counter," he said. "It's difficult to detect. It causes symptoms in six to 24 hours and you could be dead."

Once in the body, the toxin binds to nerve endings at the point where the nerves join muscles. This prevents the nerves from signaling the muscles to contract. The result is weakness and paralysis that descends from the cranium down, affecting, among other things, breathing, the Food and Drug Administration says.

The military's store of vaccine, or toxoid, is losing its potency.

In fact, USAMRIID has developed a stable of seven vaccines to counter the seven kinds of BT, but Henchal said, "We have had a problem getting the vaccine into production where they can be used."

The threat posed by BT in Iraq and the military's relative inability to deal with it is of concern.

"I think it's pretty serious," Henchal said. "We haven't had enough funding in the last 12 years ... to effectively and efficient make sore of these therapies that we need."

Pharmaceutical companies say it takes at least $600 million to get a new therapy an FDA license. The process takes two to five years, once the vaccine or drug is developed. USAMRIID has an annual budget of approximately $50 million.

Henchal says at least one of the BT vaccines -- for type A -- will be produced this year, and there may be funding for type B, both of which are naturally occurring strains. That leaves five new vaccines for other strains of BT waiting.

And that's not all. Henchal says USAMRIID has 20 therapies and vaccines developed and ready for licensing and production, but drug manufacturers have shown little interest.

"It doesn't fit into people's business models," he said. "Maybe we need a facility of our own to make more orphan" products.

Orphan products refer to those the military needs but that may not have broad commercial appeal.

The next highest priority is developing a new vaccine for the plague. The vaccine that was used during the Vietnam War "wasn't very effective against the aerosol challenge," Henchal said. The manufacturer has since stopped producing it.

The United States is working with Britain on a vaccine, and maintains good antibiotics for treating post exposure. However, a lot of the antibiotics to be used against the plague have yet to be approved by the FDA.

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