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Scaling up Biodefense

The US is ramping up its capabilities for producing vaccines and other medical countermeasures to respond to epidemics, pandemics, and bioterrorism events through a $440 million initiative that is funding three centers around the country, called the Centers for Innovation in Advanced Development and Manufacturing program.

Nature says the CIADM effort will provide flexibility and scalability for creating vaccines more swiftly, through its centers in Texas, North Carolina, and Maryland, which are being built and operated with corporate partners like Novartis and Emergent Biosolutions.

The program is not cheap; HHS could spend as much as $2 billion over the next 25 years on the Texas facility alone. But, Nature writes, this increased capacity is "long overdue, and experts contend it may be possible to achieve only with government funding." That is because many big firms have stopped making vaccines, and small companies don't have what the experience it takes to get them to the market.

"We need to be prepared for all hazards, not just the last one that hit us," Robert Kadlec, a former White House director for biodefense, tells Nature.

The CIADMs will take steps to move the US away from the slow egg-based method of producing vaccine doses and toward the cell-based method and they are tasked with developing countermeasures that could be created on demand to combat new bioterror threats.

That all sounds like improvement, but did the US need three centers when it could have had just one? A DARPA report from 2008 recommended just a single development and manufacturing facility could serve both the military and civilians.

"Rather than one good operation that meets the government’s needs, we got three operations that spread the money around,” says Philip Russell, a retired major general and former leader of the US Army’s medical research command.

Supporters of the CIADM model say the three sites will offer flexibility: and what some may call redundancy others may call a backup.