Investment in bioterrorism research to yield worldwide benefits, Killen says

Dramatically improved public health for millions of the world's poorest people is a likely side benefit of skyrocketing federal research spending on bioterrorism, according to Jack Killen, assistant director for biodefense research at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the National Institutes of Health.

He was joined by several other bioterrorism specialists -- including professors from Princeton and other universities as well as representatives from federal agencies -- at a full-day symposium in Lewis Thomas Laboratory on Friday, Oct. 11. University President Shirley M. Tilghman provided opening remarks.

Killen maintained that biodefense research will address diseases that are common in some developing countries or, like West Nile virus, are spreading to the United States and other areas where they were either unknown or thought to have been eradicated.

"Many of the organisms we think of as bioterror threats are endemic public health problems in the developing world,'' Killen said. "We have to deal not just with bioterrorism but also with re-emerging infectious disease.''

Federal spending on biodefense was steady at about $50 million annually prior to the anthrax terrorism that claimed five lives last year. Spending jumped to $274 million for the current fiscal year, will reach $1.75 billion in 2004 and is expected to remain at that level indefinitely, Killen said.

"This is an immense funding increase,'' he said. "It is completely unprecedented in the history of NIH, and both Congress and the president have big expectations.''

Universities and industry will eventually receive at least 85 percent of research funds. The influx of federal dollars will fund construction of sealed laboratories where deadly pathogens can be securely contained. It also will support basic research on anthrax, plague, cholera, typhus and other scourges that are both potential terrorist weapons and afflictions in many poor countries, Killen said.

The event, "Science, Security and Preparedness," was jointly sponsored by the Department of Molecular Biology and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs . Organizers were Scott Steele, a doctoral student in molecular biology, and Rebecca Katz, a doctoral student at the Woodrow Wilson School studying public health preparedness for biological weapons.

A list of the participants and other details can be found on the Molecular Biology site.

Contact: Lauren Robinson-Brown (609) 258-3601