23 July 2004

Experts laud U.S. program to counter bioterror attack

Experts laud U.S. program to counter bioterror attack:

Matthew B. Stannard, Chronicle Staff

San Diego -- Fast action and the right medicines can save tens of thousands of lives in the event of a bioterror attack, a Stanford expert told a bioweapons conference just hours after President Bush announced Project BioShield, a $5.6 billion program to develop stockpiles of vaccines and antidotes for chemical and biological weapons.

'The most important thing for saving people is ... treating people before they become symptomatic,' said Dean Wilkening, director of science at Stanford's Center for International Security and Cooperation.

Bioweapons, which require days or weeks of incubation to become deadly, provide a crucial window of opportunity to treat those at risk, Wilkening said at a program Wednesday on public policy and biological threats for the Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation at UC San Diego.

'You have to detect the event and get medicine into people's mouths within this window of opportunity,' he said. 'If enough people become symptomatic ... you've lost the game.'

In the case of anthrax, for example, which has a 2- to 4-day incubation period, if exposed people are treated before that window closes, as many as 95 percent may be saved, Wilkening estimated. But if it takes two weeks to procure the antidote, that figure could drop to 20 percent.

Project BioShield, which Bush signed into law on Wednesday, provides incentives to the drug industry to research and develop bioterror countermeasures, speeds up the approval process for antidotes and lets the government distribute treatments in an emergency, even before they receive Food and Drug Administration approval.

In signing the legislation, Bush said, 'We refuse to remain idle while modern technology might be turned against us,' and promised to enlist American science to 'confront the greatest danger of our time.' He noted that many of the legislators who passed it had 'experienced bioterror firsthand when anthrax and ricin were found on Capitol Hill.''"

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