Last year the Food and Drug Administration approved a new drug to be used as a countermeasure against Yersinia pestis, the biological agent that causes bubonic plague. The drug was developed with funding from the Department of Defense Chemical and Biological Defense Program (CBDP).
DoD described its research and development activities on defense against chemical and biological threats in a new 2016 annual report to Congress, which was released today under the Freedom of Information Act.
DoD’s work in this area is intended to provide “the necessary capabilities to deter, prevent, protect from, mitigate, respond to, and recover from” the use of chemical or biological (CB) agents in warfare.
“The DoD faces CB threats that are complex, diverse, and pose enduring risks to the Joint Force and Homeland,” the new report said. “The variety, origin, and severity of these threats continues to grow while resources shrink.”
DoD said it performed basic research in genetic engineering and nanoelectromechanical systems related to defense against CB threats, and supported the response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, among other initiatives.
Although DoD conducts or supports clinical trials of new medications, “No individuals have been used as subjects of any CB agent tests in the U.S. since 1975,” the reportsaid. “Human biological agent testing ended on November 25, 1969, and human chemical agent testing ended on July 25, 1975.”
But program safety is a continuing challenge. As previously reported, last year “the DoD became aware that viable Bacillus anthracis spores, believed to have been inactivated, had been shipped from a DoD laboratory. The DoD rapidly responded by implementing a moratorium on the production, handling, testing, and shipment of inactivated anthrax.”
The scope of chem/bio defense research is expected to shrink due to budget reductions. “The combination of evolving CB threats, reduced budgets, and uncertain fiscal futures forces the CBDP to focus its limited resources to address the highest priorities and greatest risks,” the report said. “This environment translates into increasingly complex program management decisions with no margins for error due to a lack of sufficient and predictable resources.”
The latest reported use of chlorine gas by Syrian government forces in the city of Aleppo is a reminder that chemical warfare is not simply a relic of a primitive past, but an actual reality today.