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Commentary

Anthrax in Review
Bill Frist, Washington Times, 10-16-06

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R–TN) discusses legislation that he has co–sponsored, which he thinks will help the nation better prepare for emerging diseases and potential bioterror attacks.

We need a flexible, high powered federal government capacity that can coordinate all resources to confront threats of biological disease. Right now, major biological threats float in and out of the public consciousness: Avian flu got a lot of attention earlier this year but vanished from the public's radar screen when it failed to spread to the United States. Sens. Richard Burr, Mike Enzi and I have written a bill to fill an important gap in our current capacity—a new Biological Advanced Research and Development Agency—to increase resources devoted to pandemic threats and speed new treatments to market. Along with this new agency, the bill would also make important changes to existing programs to ensure accountability and improve our response capability.

We need to increase the resources we devote to threats that have only begun to emerge. Right now, the great bulk of the defenses we've built are oriented toward known threats: pathogens we've dealt with before and think we might deal with again. But we have very little in the way of the advanced research and response capacity that would let scientists and public health workers quickly respond to a threat nobody predicted. We need to move towards building what those who deal with natural disasters call "all hazard" response capacity—the ability to deal with any type of threat, including an unexpected one.

We might, for example, work on developing a broad–spectrum antiviral drug that interferes with the way all viruses replicate. Such a drug could defeat a great many different viruses with one pill the same way antibiotics can defeat almost all bacteria. Unless we begin developing a more flexible capacity, we will always live in the shadow of pandemic.

Five years after the anthrax attacks, we've taken some very important steps toward preparing ourselves for biological threats. But the most important step, the fundamental rethinking of our response, remains ahead of us.



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