- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 19, 2004

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The discovery of sarin in Iraq, and the use of anthrax and ricin against Congress spurred the Senate yesterday to unanimously support spending up to $5.6 billion to help prepare for a bioterrorism attack.

America is not prepared for a major bioterror attack, said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, who is helping push “Project BioShield” legislation to fund the research, production and stockpiling of vaccines and antidotes.

The sarin gas discovered in a roadside bomb Monday in Iraq, and the ricin and anthrax attacks on the Capitol complex “demonstrated that bioterror is here,” said Mr. Frist, whose office was mailed a letter laced with ricin last fall. “It’s on our own soil, it’s hit this nation, hit this Capitol, hit the entire East Coast, and indeed it was deadly.”

The measure, which flew through the Senate, 99-0, provides incentives to the pharmaceutical industry to research and develop bioterrorism countermeasures, accelerates the approval process for antidotes, and, in an emergency, allows the government to distribute certain treatments before the Food and Drug Administration approves them.

The 10-year, $5.6 billion program also assures drug companies there will be a market for new products that under normal circumstances would have little market value.

“The bill before the Senate guarantees that any company which develops a successful new product for these threats will find a willing buyer in the federal government,” said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat. “With that guarantee, companies will make the investments needed to prepare for any attack.”

In the event the private sector does not respond, the bill allows the government to operate emergency programs to research and produce vaccines.

President Bush has been calling for the legislation since his 2003 State of the Union address.

“Project BioShield is critical for strengthening the nation’s ability to protect Americans against biological, chemical, nuclear, and radiological terrorist threats,” the White House said in a statement yesterday.

The House overwhelmingly passed the bill last year, and now the two sides will have to reach a compromise before the legislation heads to the White House for Mr. Bush’s signature.

Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican, said the effort will be expensive.

But, he said, “We had to set up a structure where we make it viable for our private-sector pharmaceutical industries and biotechnology industries to invest the extraordinary amount of money it takes to invest in the production of this type of response capability.”

Among the agents to be included in Project BioShield are smallpox, anthrax, botulism toxin, plague and Ebola.

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