Biodefense Evolving in the 21st Century


The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) hosted its BARDA Industry Day 2017 on 7-8 November 2017 in Washington, D.C., featuring government and industry experts, who shared their perspectives on medical countermeasures for evolving biodefense threats. One of these experts was the new U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Robert Kadlec, M.D.

As a national biodefense expert, Kadlec has held various roles to help protect civilians faced with public health emergencies: U.S. Air Force officer and physician; as well as senior White House, U.S. Senate, and Department of Defense positions. He has been instrumental in promoting public health and medical preparedness related to bioterrorism, with some of his efforts leading to national policy changes, for example: drafting the Pandemic and All-Hazard Preparedness Act of 2006 (Public Law No. 109-417); and conducting national biodefense assessments, which culminated in drafting the national Biodefense Policy for the 21st Century.

Kadlec’s presentation on 7 November 2017 outlined ASPR’s perspective on the threat landscape, as well as its mission, history, and priorities for improvement. In an increasingly complex and lethal threat environment, ASPR’s mission to save lives and protect Americans from 21st century health security threats is even more critical today. ASPR’s four key priorities to help build readiness for these growing threats are to develop strong leadership, expand public health security capacity, reinforce a national disaster healthcare system, and strengthen the medical countermeasures (MCM) enterprise.

Kadlec plans to enhance operational capabilities by streamlining processes, increasing efficiencies, improving intra-agency partnerships, and enhancing interagency partnerships at the federal, state, and local levels. To better optimize the MCM enterprise, ASPR will examine the full spectrum of the MCM process, from defining threats and requirements, through the procurement and sustainment of MCM, to education and training for responders. The key is to drive the MCM enterprise based on current threats, which may lead to further innovation and leveraging of advances in science and biotechnology. While sustaining progress that has been made over the past decade, Kadlec foresees new ways to engage stakeholders, increase response times, integrate medical countermeasures fully into emergency preparedness plans at state and local levels and into rapid emergency response, and ensure capabilities during a public health crisis.

In 2018, ASPR and BARDA will be examining current public health challenges and discovering ways to improve their operations. Six key issues that will be addressed in 2018 are the reauthorization of Pandemic and All-Hazard Preparedness Act, evaluation of the National Biodefense Strategy Act, 100-year anniversary of the 1918 influenza pandemic, implementation of the 21st Century Cures Act, creation of the 2017 hurricane season after action reports, and updating of the National Health Security Strategy. Kadlec has outlined a strong plan for HHS going forward, and he has the experience and capacity to succeed.