Questions on Bioterror Research

4 August 2008

Last week Dr. Bruce E. Ivins, an Army biodefense scientist, committed suicide. He was about to be indicted for murder in connection with the 2001 anthrax-letters incident. His death lead to an article in the New York Times questioning whether the boon in biodefense spending since 2001 has made the country less secure. The logic is that now there are many more laboratories and scientists working in the very dangerous biodefense area. Something is always bound to go wrong, and we may have just multiplied the chances of this happening.

Since 2001 $50 billion has been spent on biodefense laboratories and research. I’ve written before on how this has taken away from basic research on actual, they-are-here-now, pathogens. I’m happy to see these concerns echoed in the Times article and also in a piece in Wired online. 

It’s time to curtail this spending – the most dangerous microbes but the least likely to be seen – and return the money to relevant, investigator-initiated research. The best kind of research there is.