WASHINGTON, Jan. 28 (UPI) -- President George W. Bush asked members of Congress on Tuesday for $6 billion to support Project Bioshield, a focused program to develop new treatments and vaccines against bioterrorism weapons such as anthrax, smallpox and Ebola.
"We must assume that our enemies would use these diseases as weapons, and we must act before the dangers are upon us," Bush said in his State of the Union address.
The new program aims to speed research at the National Institutes of Health to find ways to treat victims of bioterror weapons. For many such weapons, no clear treatment regime yet exists -- in part because the threat was not generally considered to be serious until fairly recently.
The $6 billion, to be made available over the next 10 years, would go toward purchasing "next-generation" countermeasures against smallpox, anthrax and botulinum toxin. Additional funds would be made available to produce and purchase countermeasures for other agents, such as Ebola and plague, once they are developed.
The new Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services would manage project Bioshield jointly. The Food and Drug Administration would also oversee making new treatments available quickly in emergency situations.
There needs to be a different approach to developing treatments, Ken Alibek told United Press International in an interview late last week. Alibek, now a professor of medical microbiology and immunology at George Mason University near Washington, helped lead the Soviet Union's biological weapons program for over 20 years.
Alibek called, however, for a different approach from the president. He suggested in a statement Monday an approach using a single agency to focus and coordinate all bioterrorism activities. The agency would analyze threats and develop security recommendations as well as develop treatments and vaccines.
"Such a biological defense agency would pull our capabilities together to create a highly centralized, efficient, effective national response to the threat of a biological attack," Alibek said.