Biowarfare and Health IT: Spoiling Brand USA

Opinion: The government's lack of support discourages companies from investing in biosecurity and health information research. (

Market-based solutions require a market. But this market need not be simply the average consumer. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has tried to stimulate industry investment in medicines for the developing world by guaranteeing a market for resulting products. The understanding is "If you build it, I will buy." The government has done the same for biosecurity and, to a much lesser degree, health information technology.

When last years BioShield Act passed, it promised to set aside $5.6 billion over ten years for the government to purchase vaccines and other products to protect citizens from biowarfare attacks. Some pundits predicted that the guarantee of funds would propel plucky start-ups into the business of foiling terrorists.

Several months on, that dream has not just failed to materialize—its been thwarted, at least according to several companies, including San Diego-based Hollis-Eden Pharmaceuticals Inc.

/zimages/2/28571.gifSenate leaders introduce bills asking for up to half a billion dollars a year for health IT. Click here to read more.

Government delays have cost the company $600 million dollars, the companys CEO reportedly told the House Government Reform Committee last week.

Even if thats a gross overestimate, consider that companies typically spend $800 million over more than a decade to bring a drug to market, according to the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development.

Hollis-Eden is working on a drug that could prevent radiation from damaging bone marrow, the source of both red and white blood cells. Other companies are working on vaccines for some of the worlds most-feared pathogens.

Two senators are planning a new bill to fill the gaps; meanwhile, administration officials protest that the funding processes cannot be rushed.

If processes cannot be rushed, then expectations must be managed. And they must be managed well before companies put themselves on a limb for millions of dollars.

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