This is new territory for a government agency, which may explain the slow start. "the government has never done anything like this before," says Brad smith of the Center for Biosecurity. The Department of Homeland security must first decide what "designated threats" to target and then the Department of Health commissions drugs or vaccines designed to protect against them. So far the diseases it has picked extend to anthrax, botulism and smallpox.
This targeted "one bug, one drug" approach is, however, seen by some biodefence specialists as fundamentally misguided. Ken alibek, head of the soviet and then Russian bacterial weapons programme until 1992, says it allows attackers to create pathogens that evade or resist each remedy as fast as it is developed. "Based on the former soviet model, it takes three to four years to engineer a drug-resistant o
Contact: Claire Bowles