The report delivers the recommendations of a distinguished panel of researchers who participated in a two-day workshop at the National Academies to promote the application of the latest biological information, technology and experience to the study of smallpox. Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator Stephen C. Harrison of Harvard Medical School is the lead author of the report, which was published online July 12, 2004, in the early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
According to Harrison, two factors loomed large as the scientists considered the dangers of smallpox. First, there is essentially no information about whether stocks of the variola virus, which causes smallpox, exist outside the two known repositories in the United States and Russia. Second, the impact of intentional release of the virus would "probably provoke a global health crisis." The report states that "the lethality of the disease (up to 40 percent) and its ease of transmissibility place variola virus at the top of the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's] list of high threat (category A) agents."
Given the pressing need for novel drugs to prevent the spread of smallpox if it were to be used as a bioterror agent, Harrison said that the group's top recommendation was the immediate engagement of biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies in the project. With the estimated price tag for developing two or three antiviral drugs at $1.5-$2.5 billion, it is likely that the government is going to have to consider
Contact: Jim Keeley
Howard Hughes Medical Institute