Biodefense Headlines – 18 May 2021

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News highlights on health security threats and countermeasures curated by Global Biodefense

This week’s selections include a major influx of funding for public health departments; launch of the WHO’s early-warning pandemic hub; high-level CDC departures; and continued smallpox MCM investments.

POLICY + INITIATIVES

U.S. to Bolster Public Health Workforce to Fight COVID-19, Future Pandemics

$4.4 billion will go to states and local public health departments to address disease outbreaks and hire school nurses. It will also be used to expand the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s ability to track outbreaks and to create a service corps dedicated to public health. The remaining $3 billion will boost local public health workforces ahead of future challenges, with an emphasis on recruiting diverse candidates, the White House said. Reuters

Senior CDC Official Nancy Messonier to Resign

Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases since 2016, drew wrath from the Trump administration early in the pandemic. Messonnier’s long public silence was supposed to end when Biden assumed office and strove to put more scientists at the forefront of the pandemic response. But she also reportedly had differences with Biden officials and was moved. Washington Post

CDC Veteran Anne Schuchat to Resign in Second High-Level Departure from Agency

An internal medicine physician, Schuchat joined the CDC in 1988 as an Epidemic Intelligence Service officer. She was involved in the investigations of the 2001 anthrax attacks, the 2003 SARS outbreak, and the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic. She served as the director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases; Messonnier took over that role when Schuchat the CDC’s principal deputy director in 2015. STAT

H.R. 391, Global Health Security Act of 2021

The bill would require the Administration to support the establishment of a new public-private Fund for Global Health Security and Pandemic Preparedness, which would help other countries implement health security strategies and respond to public health emergencies around the world. The limits U.S. contributions to 33 percent of the total from all sources. Congressional Budget Office

Early-Warning ‘Pandemic Hub’ Plan Unveiled by WHO’s Tedros And Germany’s Merkel

An international WHO Hub for pandemic control is to open in Berlin later this year to ensure better preparedness and transparency in the fight against likely future global health threats and act as a “global early warning surveillance system”. UN News

ISO Hearing Reviewing DOD Strategy, Policy, and Programs for Countering WMD in FY22

Testimony of Jennifer Walsh, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and global security and acting undersecretary of defense for policy; Dr. Brandi C. Vann, acting assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs; Navy Vice Adm. Timothy G. Szymanski, deputy command of U.S. Special Operations Command; and Dr. Rhys M. Williams, acting director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. Their testimony includes a review of the DoD’s strategy, policy and programs for countering weapons of mass destruction for FY2022. Defense Threat Reduction Agency

WHO Chief Hails ‘Monumental Moment’ in COVID Fight, as US Throws Support Behind Vaccine Patent Waiver

The WHO Director-General said the commitment announced by the United States administration to lift vaccine patent protections to help boost global supply, was a “monumental moment” in the battle to end the deadly pandemic. UN News

MEDICAL COUNTERMEASURES

Single COVID Dose May Leave Virus-Naïve Vaccinees Vulnerable to Variants

The first dose of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine regimen confers a robust immune response against the B117 and B1351 variants in people previously infected with the coronavirus—but not in those in those never infected, according to a new study led by researchers from Imperial College London, Queen Mary University of London, and University College London. CIDRAP

Covid-19: Sputnik Vaccine Rockets, Thanks to Lancet Boost

Journals risk being used in place of regulators when they publish studies of novel vaccines that have not yet been authorised by a major regulator. Peer review is inadequate to decide the risk-benefit ratio of new drugs. BMJ

Siga Seeks FDA Approval for Intravenous Smallpox Therapy

Siga Technologies has filed for FDA approval of an intravenous formulation of its smallpox treatment Tpoxx. The new formulation is designed to enable the treatment of patients who cannot swallow the already-approved capsules. Fierce Pharma

US Government Orders Additional Smallpox-Monkeypox Vaccines

Bavarian Nordic’s JYNNEOS is the only U.S. FDA-approved non-replicating smallpox and monkeypox vaccine for preventing disease in adults 18 years of age and older. Initially awarded in April 2020, this new $12M option covers the supply of additional liquid-frozen JYNNEOS doses manufactured in Denmark-based Bavarian Nordic A/S’s new fill and finish facility. Precision Vaccinations

A Global Database of COVID-19 Vaccinations

The Our World in Data COVID-19 vaccination dataset provides a public aggregated global dataset on administered vaccinations. It covers the full period from 13 December 2020—the date the first vaccination data were published—and has been updated regularly ever since. The COVID-19 vaccination dataset is expanding as more countries begin releasing official data on their national vaccination campaigns. As of 7 April 2021, the dataset covers 169 countries. Nature

Airway-on-a-chip Technology Enables COVID-19 Drug Repurposing

Human lung airway cells are grown in one channel of the microfluidic device that is perfused with air, while human blood vessel cells are grown in the other channel, which is perfused with liquid culture medium to replicate blood flow. Cells grown in this device naturally differentiate into multiple airway-specific cell types in proportions that are similar to those in the human airway and develop traits observed in living lungs such as cilia and the ability to produce and move mucus. Drug Target Review

Dengue Virus-Free Defective Interfering Particles Have Potent and Broad Anti-Dengue Virus Activity

This study reports a novel DENV DIP production cell line that can stably produce infectious virus-free DIPs using a combination of lentiviral and retroviral vectors. The DENV DIPs produced from this system can potently inhibit replication of all four DENV serotypes in cells. Communications Biology

BIOSECURITY + BIOPREPAREDNESS

The Role of Noncommunicable Diseases in the Pursuit of Global Health Security

The integration of NCDs in health security plans may be limited unless all global frameworks recognize its importance, including GHSA, IHR, and their respective evaluation tools. Surveillance approaches may be challenged by limited access to vulnerable populations. When strengthening laboratory capacity, determining which core NCD assays are suitable for laboratory rather than clinical settings may be difficult. Health Security

Q&A with Former Biodefense Chief Rick Bright on Stopping the Next COVID

What I’m really focused on is that trigger that could have stopped this pandemic: The apolitical, democratic, federated approach, whatever you want to call it — to sharing the early warning signs. There’s so much that governments can do around the world. There’s so much that companies can do around the world. There’s so much NGOs and individuals can do if they just know something bad is about to happen. AP

Experts Call for Sweeping Reforms to Prevent the Next Pandemic

Pandemics, the authors concluded, are an existential threat on the order of a chemical or nuclear weapon, and preparing for them must be the responsibility of the highest levels of political leadership rather than only health departments, often among the least powerful of government agencies. NY Times

SELECT AGENTS + CBRNE THREATS

The Next Pandemic: Marburg?

A deadly cousin of Ebola, Marburg can kill nine out of ten people it infects, and international travel has taken it from Africa to Europe twice in the past 40 years. Will increasing globalisation make this virus more likely to erupt around the world? Gavi

Ebola Vaccination Starts in Sierra Leone to Prevent New Outbreak

Ebola vaccination kicked off this week in Sierra Leone as the country takes proactive public health measures to protect people at high risk of infection in case of any potential cross-border transmission from neighboring Guinea. The vaccination was launched in Kambia District, a primary international point of entry by road crossing, and of significant economic and commercial importance for Guinea and Sierra Leone.  World Health Organization

On the Verge – New Weapons of Mass Destruction?

In this episode, Dr. Natasha Bajema, Director of the Converging Risks Lab, hosts a follow-on discussion with Colonel (ret) Ron Fizer and the Honorable Andy Weber about the definition of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and whether or not other technologies and scenarios with the potential for mass effects need to be considered as part of any effort to reboot the 2002 Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). Council on Strategic Risks

Promising Vaccine Strategy for Filoviruses

Recombinant virus-like particles (VLPs) can protect against EBOV challenge in animals, but manufacturing difficulties have hindered their development as human vaccines. Therefore, the multivalent display of stabilized EBOV GP trimers on protein nanoparticles may provide a promising solution for developing VLP-type subunit vaccines. Nature Communications

The Natural History of Aerosolized Francisella tularensis Infection in Cynomolgus Macaques

Results from this study indicated that infection of cynomolgus macaques with aerosolized F. tularensis results in similar disease progression and outcome as seen in humans, and that cynomolgus macaques are a reliable animal model to test medical countermeasures against aerosolized F. tularensis. Pathogens

SURVEILLANCE + DETECTION

A New SARS-Cov-2 Variant Poorly Detected by RT-PCR on Nasopharyngeal Samples, with High Lethality

In early January 2021, an outbreak of nosocomial cases of COVID 19 emerged in Western France, with RT PCR tests repeatedly negative on nasopharyngeal samples but positive on lower respiratory tract samples. Whole genome sequencing (WGS) revealed a new variant, currently defining a novel SARS CoV 2 lineage: B.1.616. The B.1.616 variant was independently associated with severe disease. medRxiv pre-print

Predictive Performance of International COVID-19 Mortality Forecasting Models

Globally, models assessed in this study show a median absolute percent error (MAPE) of 7 to 13% at six weeks, reflecting surprisingly good performance despite the complexities of modelling human behavioral responses and government interventions. Median absolute error for peak timing increased from 8 days at one week of forecasting to 29 days at eight weeks and is similar for first and subsequent peaks. Nature

Estimating Covid-19 Fatalities in India

Some reports describe modest levels of underreporting. But the scale can also be dizzying. In the first three weeks of April 2021, almost 1,000 bodies were disposed of with Covid-19 protocols in Bhopal, while government data listed only 50 Covid-19 deaths in the city. According to another report, on one day alone, Kanpur reported five times as many funerals as normal, amounting to almost 400 extra funerals; but official figures listed three Covid-19 deaths on that day. The India Forum

The Future of Virus Tracking Can Be Found on This College Campus

“Colorado Mesa has the most sophisticated system in the country to track outbreaks. It’s definitely the kind of analytics that people talk about having but nobody actually has access to in this way.” The New York Times

A Rapid, Accurate, Scalable, And Portable Testing System For COVID-19 Diagnosis

The SPOT assay comprises a one-pot RT-LAMP followed by PfAgo-based target sequence detection. Coupling LAMP with Cas12-based nucleic acid detection reduces false positives by requiring a single sequence-specific cleavage to generate an output signal. Nature Communications

HISTORICAL REFLECTIONS

The Forgotten Panic of the Anthrax Attacks

Weeks after 9/11, deadly poison was sent to famous politicians and journalists. The public—and the Bush administration—freaked out. In total, five people died from the anthrax attacks, and 17 got sick. Those numbers might not sound huge, but after 9/11 America was on edge. Slate

In 1979, Russia Learned Just How Dangerous Bioweapons Could Be

In October 1979, a West German newspaper run by Soviet émigrés ran a vague story alleging that an explosion in a military factory in Sverdlovsk (now Yekaterinburg) had released deadly bacteria, killing as many as a thousand. The story swiftly drew attention from other Western newspapers and eventually the U.S. government, because if Soviet factories were producing biological weapons, they were doing so in contravention of the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention. National Interest

Human Tissue Preserved Since World War I Yields New Clues About 1918 Pandemic

On 27 June 1918, two young German soldiers died in Berlin from a new influenza strain that had emerged earlier that year. Their lungs ended up in the collection of the Berlin Museum of Medical History, where they rested, fixed in formalin, for 100 years. Now, researchers have managed to sequence large parts of the virus that infected the two men, giving a glimpse into the early days of the most devastating pandemic of the 20th century. The partial genomes hold some tantalizing clues that the infamous flu strain may have adapted to humans between the pandemic’s first and second waves. Science

SPECIAL INTEREST

SIPRI Contributes to the Second German National Dialogue Forum on the Biological Weapons Convention

SIPRI was represented by Kolja Brockmann, Researcher in the Dual-Use and Arms Trade Control Programme, who was among the panelists in a session on the topic of ‘Freedom of science and responsible science – how unlimited is or should science be?’. Among other topics, the panelists discussed potential risks of technology convergence and the application of the precautionary principle and a responsible research and innovation approach. The discussion further explored how scientists and research institutions could strengthen personal and institutional responsibility and compliance with export controls. SIPRI

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