Biden Unveils New Pandemic Preparedness Plan

By Tyler Evans, Anna Menzel and Jennifer Plitsch

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In September, the Biden administration released a new plan, “American Pandemic Preparedness: Transforming Our Capabilities,” to improve the United States’ ability to respond rapidly and effectively to future pandemics and other biological threats. The initiative could be a boon for companies in the biodefense industry.

The document provides a high-level overview of the administration’s goals over the next seven to 10 years. The total projected cost of the plan is $65.3 billion, which would be appropriated over time to a centralized “mission control” office within the Department of Health and Human Services.

The proposal for consistent and regular investments in the country’s biodefense capabilities through a centralized office could transform and systematize the way the government plans future acquisitions and research investments to support these goals. The investments identified in the plan could also generate significant opportunities for biodefense contractors and researchers seeking to support this mission.

The first goal of the plan is to transform U.S. medical defenses by allocating $41 billion to developing and expanding vaccine, therapeutic and diagnostic capabilities. Objectives include designing, testing and reviewing a safe and effective vaccine within 100 days after the recognition of an emerging threat, and producing sufficient amounts of the vaccine within 130 days for the entire U.S. population and 200 days for the global population. The plan also sets lofty goals of developing therapeutics for all virus families and creating a simple, inexpensive, high-performing diagnostic test that can be readily modified to respond to new pathogens. These objectives represent significant opportunities for contractors to develop or repurpose technologies.

The second goal of the plan concentrates on detecting emerging threats soon after they arise by creating early-warning systems and tracking the spread and evolution of the threat with real-time monitoring. The plan proposes to allocate $5.4 billion to early-detection efforts including: strengthening analytical models and forecasting of outbreaks; establishing routine genomic sequencing of samples from patients with unexplained fever or respiratory symptoms; expanding environmental sequencing; aggregating real-time information about symptoms with other public health information; and establishing a global warning system for pandemic threats.

These objectives would present additional opportunities for diagnostic and service companies, with a sizeable portion of funds potentially being directed to work outside the United States. For example, existing programs to detect new zoonotic diseases in less developed areas could be significantly expanded.

The third goal of the plan focuses on strengthening public health systems by allocating $9.3 billion to modernizing U.S. public health infrastructure and investing in international preparedness. In particular, the plan focuses on recruiting and sustaining a diverse group of public health experts dedicated to responding to public health emergencies; ensuring public health laboratories have sufficient capacity and infrastructure to detect, characterize and report on pathogens safely and securely; and developing strategies to mitigate health inequities exacerbated during such emergencies.

These investments may present an opportunity for contracts involving facility expansion or the provision of personnel with unique expertise.

The fourth goal of the plan represents a mix of priorities focused on preventing laboratory accidents, promoting efficient regulatory approvals and clinical trials, and acquiring necessary supplies. The plan proposes to accomplish these objectives by first allocating $5.2 billion to developing and acquiring innovative personal protective equipment and technologies to suppress pathogen transmission among people, as well as refilling depleted national stockpiles with vital supplies. Another $2 billion would be allocated to strengthening biosafety and biosecurity innovation to prevent laboratory accidents and deter bioweapons development. An additional $1.6 billion would go toward facilitating regulatory approvals for new technologies, creating agile clinical trial networks to respond to new vaccine and therapeutic development, and increasing regulatory capacity at the Food and Drug Administration.

Contractors focused on non-vaccine preventative measures like personal protective equipment and air filtration systems could benefit from this funding.

Finally, the fifth goal of the plan proposes to allocate $800 million to create a centralized mission control office to manage and ensure accountability for all aspects of the preparedness program. The office would have authority to develop and update plans with objective and transparent milestones; regularly assess and publicly report on mission progress; shift funding to ensure that goals are achieved; coordinate linkages across performers in government, academia, philanthropy and industry; and conduct periodic exercises to evaluate national pandemic preparedness by deploying national capabilities.

Contractors would likely benefit from being able to coordinate with a centralized authority instead of the current patchwork of biodefense agencies with different missions.

The plan is an expansive development in the Biden administration’s broader strategy to respond to biodefense threats and prepare for future pandemics. Implementing the plan will require congressional buy-in and significant appropriations, but its introduction signals that biodefense and pandemic preparedness are key priorities for the administration. Looking ahead, industry participants engaged in biodefense research and development, support services, biodefense-related construction, and the sale of biodefense products may expect new business or collaboration opportunities.

Jen Plitsch and Tyler Evans are partners and Anna Menzel is an associate at Covington & Burling LLP. Brooke Stanley, an associate at the firm, also contributed to this article.

Topics: Chem Bio Protection

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