Expand Funding For Pandemic Preparedness: R&D Advocacy Group Says To US Congress

After applauding the United States Congress for passing a bill that aims to strengthen preparedness against global disease threats, an R&D advocacy group is now calling on Congressional leaders to ensure there is actually money allocated to fund an expanded set of activities.

A larger investment is needed, “to fully and equitably fund the breadth of disease threats,” and ensure sufficient research and development (R&D) “to generate innovations that could dramatically boost our capacity to neutralize potentially catastrophic outbreaks,” said Jamie Bay Nishi, Director of the Washington, DC-based Global Health Technologies Coalition (GHTC), in a press release issued yesterday.

While the bill authorises a sizeable increase in funding for the next year, only 10 percent of this is currently being allocated. GHTC is calling on Congress to increase this allocation, and to ensure that a portion of this is invested in addressing naturally-occurring health threats – including emerging infectious diseases, antimicrobial resistance (AMR), and pandemic influenza.

The Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness and Advancing Innovation Act of 2019 was officially passed by US Congress yesterday 4 June, and will now go before the US President for review before signing it into law over the next few days.

This act authorises funding for the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) – part of the US Health and Human Service office of Preparedness and Response – which facilitates the transition of early-stage “vaccines, drugs, and diagnostics from research through advanced development towards consideration for approval by the FDA [Food and Drug Administration].”

The legislation passed by Congress authorises a funding increase for fiscal year 2020 amounting to US$50 million over the US$561.7 million allocated for fiscal year 2019. However, the current appropriations bill proposed by the House of Representatives allocates only a modest increase of US$5 million (10 percent of the authorised funding increase) for BARDA, bringing proposed fiscal year 2020 funding to US$566.7 million, a GHTC representative told Health Policy Watch.

“BARDA’s reinforced authority to pursue Strategic Initiatives against naturally occurring threats can provide a significant contribution to our nation’s defenses. But this authority is of limited value without sufficient funding,” Nishi underlined in the release, urging Congress to now increase funding for “BARDA with a budget that is aligned with its mandate.”

These funding levels discussed above are for BARDA overall, the GHTC representative noted, and “[i]t is not clear how or how much of its funding BARDA is currently investing in naturally-occurring health threats – including emerging infectious diseases, AMR, and pandemic influenza – or whether any funding increase given to the agency would be ultimately used to bolster research in these areas.”

“Most of BARDA’s work on emerging infectious diseases has been funded piecemeal through emergency appropriations for Zika and Ebola, funding now nearly depleted—even as the Ebola outbreak escalates. This funding by crisis approach is inadequate,” Nishi said. “It undermines our ability to prepare for future threats.”

GHTC is a coalition of more than 25 nonprofit organizations, academic institutions, and businesses whose mission is to accelerate the creation of new drugs, vaccines, diagnostics, and other tools that bring healthy lives within reach for all people.

Image Credits: PATH/Eric Becker.