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Senators Launch New Bid to Reauthorize Biodefense Initiatives

By Diane Barnes

Global Security Newswire

WASHINGTON -- Senate lawmakers on Thursday launched their latest legislative attempt to renew several initiatives to increase the nation's medical readiness for countering disease agents and other unconventional-weapon threats.

The newly proposed Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Act incorporates several semantic changes to language approved last month by the House of Representatives, and would need approval by the lower chamber if it receives Senate endorsement.

The bills were introduced following failed efforts last year to move corresponding legislation into law.

Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.) introduced the new bill with Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) as well as four GOP colleagues on the panel. The text had four additional "original co-sponsors" in the upper chamber, according to a HELP Committee statement.

The legislation would extend the mandate of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, a Health and Human Services Department office charged with shepherding new vaccines, antibiotics and other medical countermeasures through the development process for possible inclusion in the U.S. Strategic National Stockpile.

The legislation would also renew funding for medical readiness activities through the Public Health Emergency Preparedness cooperative agreement program, as well as efforts under the Hospital Preparedness Program to assist states, territories and localities in readying medical sites to handle an influx of patients in the event of a man-made or natural pandemic.

It would extend Project Bioshield, which aims to finance private-sector development of vaccines and other medical treatments against attacks involving a biological agent or another weapon of mass destruction. The Bioshield Special Reserve Fund is currently scheduled for depletion in the budget cycle that begins on Oct. 1, 2013.

The proposed legislation "enhances" the authority of the secretary of Health and Human Services to release stockpiled medications "in limited circumstances based on either a declared emergency or identified threat," according to a bill summary. The draft also "clarifies the Food and Drug Administration’s ability to extend the expiration date of approved [medical countermeasures] for the Strategic National Stockpile," the document adds.

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