16 July 2004

Congress approves 'Bioshield' legislation

Congress approves 'Bioshield' legislation:

By Joe Fiorill, Global Security Newswire

Congress approved legislation that would guarantee a government market for medical countermeasures against a biological, chemical, radiological or nuclear attack.

The chamber voted 414-2 in favor of a bill to implement Project Bioshield, which President George W. Bush first proposed in January of last year. The Senate passed identical legislation May 19. Bush is expected within a week or two to sign the bill, which is intended primarily to spur production of drugs that manufacturers would otherwise find unprofitable.

Select Committee on Homeland Security Chairman Christopher Cox, R-Calif., called the passage 'a watershed in our mission to defend America against bioterrorism, establishing our first line of defense against biological weapons.'

'This is the most significant first-responder program in our nation's history. It will ensure that we have treatments immediately on hand to save lives,' Cox said.

Besides authorizing the government to spend $5.6 billion over the next decade on countermeasures produced by private drugmakers, the act would speed National Institutes of Health countermeasure research and development, as well as allow the Food and Drug Administration to approve new drugs more quickly during emergencies.

A $700 million contract for a new anthrax vaccine, the first contract under the new law, is likely to be awarded 'as soon as next month,' said Rep. Jim Turner, D-Texas, the top Democrat on the House committee.

'By bringing researchers, medical experts and the biomedical industry together in new and innovative ways,' Bush said in a statement today, 'we will not only help protect the homeland but also gain insights into other diseases. This will break new ground in the search for treatments and cures while strengthening our overall biotechnology infrastructure.'"

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