Public sector picks up drug and vaccine development again

In a post-9/11 world, fears over pandemics and bioterrorism have renewed drug and vaccine development in the public sector, as national governments funnel research toward combating infectious diseases like anthrax.

A story from the Financial Times notes that as private drugmakers shy away from fighting rare, but deadly, diseases, the public sector is beginning to pick up the slack. In the U.K., the Health Protection Agency (HPA)--established in 2003 to protect the British community against infectious diseases--is turning out research on a potential anthrax vaccine, turning the military science park Portion Down in Wiltshire, England, into a vaccine "factory" of sorts.

During the 20th century, national governments did their fair share of vaccine and drug development, until costs and ideology drove them to turn facilities over to the private companies. But recent global events--like the Sept. 11 attacks and 2001 anthrax attacks--have given way to bioterror and pandemic scares, prompting the public sector to pick up the work again.

The diversion isn't just in the U.K. In the U.S., the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and NIH's newly established National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences have accelerated research and drug development for the rare diseases private drugmakers may neglect. And the same is being done at the Pasteur Institute in France.

But as government budgets start to shrink, some wonder whether the trend can continue. As Roger Hinton, deputy head of the HPA's microbiology services unit, tells the Financial Times, capital constraints are the biggest challenge in sustaining government-funded drug research.

- read the Financial Times story