A letter from the Director of Biodefense, CJ Peters, MD
The Center for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases (CBEID) is addressing important issues in the protection of the US against biological threats. The problems of bioterrorism and biological warfare are very broad, and accordingly, the CBEID is concentrating on areas in which UTMB has particular expertise, drawing on collaborators or contracts to assure program success. For example, UTMB has the expertise in molecular and structural biology to develop vaccines and antiviral drugs beginning at the most basic level and, in addition, has great proficiency in animal models to evaluate the utility of the candidate products. UTMB’s Sealy Center for Vaccine Development, for example, has the capability to test human vaccines and to use human challenge models to evaluate vaccines and other antivirals. Thus, because of the profusion of biothreat agents, there is an emphasis on broad generic solutions, which UTMB is uniquely poised to provide.
The CBEID also has a commitment to the immediate community and accordingly is developing a local curriculum for teaching biodefense to assist in local and regional issues. The well-established telemedicine network will also be supported to yield both educational and operational resources for preparedness. While there are no plans to field biodefense teams, the center is available to state and local authorities as a resource.
In addition to the existing high containment facilities at UTMB and the expertise of its faculty, the members of the CBEID add to its strengths through their experience with the US Army in biological warfare defense and participation in Centers for Disease Control national planning.
Following the incidents of bioterrorism in the US in the last quarter of 2001, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) developed a Strategic Plan for Biodefense Research which was last updated in 2007. This plan identifies high priority biodefense products that are needed for NIAID Category A-C agents. NIAID asserted ‘our ability to detect and prevent infections related to bioterrorist incidents depends to a large degree on the state of biomedical science.’ We believe the CBEID exists as a strong entity in the national fight against bioterrorism.