Help From Pharmas

Corrections or additions?

This article by Barbara Fox was prepared for the

November 7, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights

reserved.

NJ & Bio-Terror Fighting — Perfect Together?

Anthrax still ranks well below the flu as a major

killer,

but its fear quotient is way higher. And beyond the anthrax problem

lurk other unknown bioterror terrors.

New Jersey finds itself at the epicenter of this scare, and Acting

Governor Donald DiFrancesco went to Washington on Monday, November

5, to ask for a big piece — $916 million — of the

terror-fighting

pie. If crime fighters and scientists need to ramp up quickly, New

Jersey has the space — the 78,000 square feet that was just

evacuated

by ValiGen in Hopewell.

Last Wednesday, October 31, U.S. 1 predicted that the State of New

Jersey’s interest in that already-completed lab space might be

connected

to the anti-terror effort. The reason why ValiGen shut down its

operations

was because its European investors — who watched the Twin Towers

fall on September 11 — got queasy and withdrew. It would be sweet

irony if the space prepared for ValiGen could be effectively used

to fight bioterror attackers.

DiFrancesco did not get a "yes" on leasing the laboratory

from Tom Ridge, head of the federal Office of Homeland Security, but

Ridge promised to have the federal department of health and human

services "examine the state’s growing laboratory needs in light

of current and possible bioterrorism attacks." Ridge also promised

the following:

Four more epidemiologists to help with the sampling and

testing.

Environmentally sampling at all the state’s regional mail

distribution centers (and help with sampling smaller post offices

if more contamination is discovered).

New Jersey to take top priority for irradiation equipment

to decontaminate mail.

An initial 100,000 doses of antibiotic.

The command post for a joint agency task force is now located

in a very unglamorous spot, part of a Ewing warehouse owned by the

New Jersey State Police and last used when preparing for a potential

Y2K crisis. Once again, a space has been cleared and more than 100

desks, telephones, and computers have been shuttled from state

equipment

depots.

Kevin Donovan, of the FBI’s Newark office, is the special agent in

charge of the anthrax investigation. Most of the 340 FBI agents in

New Jersey are working on one aspect or another of the September 11

disaster. "The FBI is in overall charge, coordinating the criminal

investigation concerning the anthrax scenarios," says John

Hagarty,

spokesperson for the state police.

"We are tracking the leads as best as possible in an effort to

develop information on persons involved in the anthrax scare,"

he says. Hazardous materials teams conduct initial testings where

anthrax is suspected, and the department of health does the analysis.

The FBI has its own team to collect criminal evidence.

"Most of the laboratory facilities testing the suspected substance

are from the health department," he says. "The focus of the

state police laboratory is on the terror side of forensic science,

assisting the New York police in comparing DNA."

"Additional space is necessary," says Hagarty. "Additional

lab technicians are needed to support the government’s request to

test all the post offices in the state and continue the process of

testing suspicious substances reported by the public."

For example, since September 11, the state office of emergency

management

has taken 3,650 phone calls reporting suspicious packages, letters,

and substances that have required police or hazmat team response.

Many of those are referred to local or county hazmat teams. But if

a sample is collected, it is being tested by the health department

laboratory.

The governor said the asked-for federal money would go to test every

postal facility, to rapidly test and analyze environmental samples,

to hire more medical investigators and law enforcement officials,

to provide antibiotics, and to get priority treatment for state postal

facilities with upgraded equipment.

"We are certainly interested in moving forward with the lab

concept,

utilizing not only New Jersey’s resources but also federal resources

and scientists from the private sector," says Hagarty.

According to the McDevitt website

(www.princetonbiotechnologycenter.com)

this laboratory has never been occupied. Not true. The lease was

voided,

but ValiGen occupied that space for several weeks. "But very

little

wet chemistry was done there," says Kevin McGloon, the leasing

agent for McDevitt Real Estate Services, representing the owner,

Townsend

Capital. "The stuff in the freezers has been removed."

"It is a great facility and it is ready to go," says Doug

Petrozzini of the commercial real estate firm Grubb & Ellis. He had

signed the first tenant, ValiGen. "McDevitt has it on the market

at $28 or $29 a foot, and that’s a good number given what is in

there."

Whether the state will get preference, due to emergency need, over

a private company, McGloon won’t say. He seems ready to take the first

tenant who comes up with the money. "The state is one of 10

potential

tenants," he emphasizes.

Top Of Page
Help From Pharmas

Central Jersey’s drug companies are quite ready to

enlist

their resources to help fight the anthrax war. On October 22 Peter

Dolan, chairman and CEO of Bristol-Myers Squibb, offered the services

of a team of 20 to 25 scientists do to anti-terrorism research.

"We

would pay the team and provide lab space," says Bill Dunnett,

B-MS spokesperson. The offer was made as part of a package that the

firm would provide its own brand of antibiotics free of charge to

the American people — should the government and the FDA agree

that it would be useful for the treatment of anthrax.

Would B-MS scientists be doing anthrax testing or forensic work? No,

their research would look to the future — focusing on potential

pathogens that bioterrorists might use — to evaluate existing

drugs and potential new drugs. And B-MS can’t do this research without

the say-so of the federal government. "We’ve got to work in close

conjunction with government researchers," cautions Dunnett.

"But

we wouldn’t necessarily need to have the actual pathogens in our

labs."

There is no time limit on the offer, and it has not been accepted.

The scientists could set up their laboratories in Hopewell or in

Wallingford,

Connecticut.

"There has been nothing like this since World War II; it is

certainly

a serious offer," says Dunnett. "Other pharma companies have

also stepped up to the plate to make similar proposals."

For instance, on October 24 Johnson & Johnson offered to help the

Department of Health and Human Services in any way, including

research,

manufacturing facilities, distribution channels, and public

information

and education. It could contribute experts in medical devices and

surgical instrumentation and diagnostics.

Four months before the anthrax scare, Johnson & Johnson applied to

the Food and Drug Administration to have its drug Levaquin approved

for anthrax treatment. Now J&J says it will turn over to the federal

government up to 100 million tablets of Levaquin — if and when

it is approved by the FDA.

J&J says that Levaquin is a quinolone anti-infective that, on lung

penetration, can be compared with ciprofloxacin. It has conducted

in-vitro trials to document Levaquin’s activity against anthrax. J&J’s

offer followed the announcement of a deal that German drug company

Bayer made with the U.S. Department of Human Services to deliver from

100 to 300 million tablets of the antibiotic Cipro for the cut rate

price of 95 cents a tablet.


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