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Citing Looming Bioterror Threat, NIH Will Bolster Infectious Disease-Related Grants

NEW YORK, Dec. 7 — The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has launched seven new research programs designed to help speed research into organisms that can be used by bioterrorists.

 

NIAID intends to fund both basic and applied research ranging from genomic sequencing projects to applications like novel diagnostics that can be used on natural and bioengineered microbes, new antimicrobial drug development, and new vaccines.

 

Two of the initiatives are contracts: one will develop a new recombinant protective-antigen anthrax vaccine while the other will encourage multidisciplinary research on emerging or re-emerging viral and prion diseases.

 

The other new grants support a range of research efforts into Category A infectious agents that would include the bacteria that causes anthrax, tularemia, and hemorrhagic fevers. The grants, disclosed on Wednesday, include:

 

—The Rapid Response Grant Program on Bioterrorism-Related Research, which will back basic research into pathogenic organisms as well as research into new preventive strategies, treatments, and diagnostics. NIAID has fast-tracked this program, shortening its review process to about six months.

 

—The Partnerships for Novel Therapeutic, Diagnostic and Vector Control Strategies in Infectious Diseases, designed to support research into diseases that the pharmaceutical and biotech industries may overlook. Its aim is to foster partnerships between government, academia, and industry.

 

—Exploratory and development grants for technology applications for NIAID-funded research. These grants are designed to support technology upgrades or collaborations for researchers who already funded by NIAID.

 

—The Small Business Program on Bioterrorism-Related Research, a one-time grant to support research into bioterrorism agents.

 

—NIAID Investigator-Initiated Small Research Grants to fund specific short-term projects.

 

These new projects, which do not yet have specific dollar figures attached to them, are part of a major push by the National Institutes of Health to accelerate research into bioterrorism.

 

Carole Heilman, director of microbiology and infectious disease at NIH, told GenomeWeb that “at minimum we can redirect existing resources if we’re playing the budget game.” She was referring to the Congressional budget resolution that is ongoing with the NIH.

 

NIH’s FY 2001 budget for bioterrorism research was $47 million; the president’s budgetary proposal for FY2002, made before the Sept. 11 attacks, was $93 million. Budgets for this year have not yet been set.

 

NIAID is now accepting proposals for all projects, the agency said. Application deadlines begin next week and conclude in mid-March of 2002.

 

Asked what place genomics-based research might have in securing grant money, Heilman said that studies that focus on, say, anthrax vaccines will be especially attractive to NIAID.

 

“If there are investigators that would like to either utilize recombinant TA or mutated recombinant TA as a vector for a new vaccine, we’re very interested in that,” Heilman said. “We have invested quite heavily over the years in trying to really build a resource of genomic technology, and application of this technology is of tremendous interest to us."

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