Tularemia is a potential biological weapons agent.
(Photo: Pennsylvania State University)
The Pentagon's focus on biological threats to troops and population centers ramped up another level this week with an $13.5 million research contract to a pharmaceutical company that uses compounds with the chemical boron to stop diseases often found in Asia and tropical climates.
Anacor Pharmaceuticals, based in Palo Alto, Calif., was awarded the contract Wednesday by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), the Pentagon office responsible for dealing with potential chemical, nuclear and biological threats.
The main focus for the research, DTRA documents show, are "novel therapeutics" for two bacteria - B. pseudomallei and Francisella tularensis:
• B. pseudomallei causes melioidosis, which is "spread by ingestion, inhalation, and through cuts in the skin," according to the website GlobalSecurity.org. Commonly found in Southeast Asia and northern Australia, it was often found in U.S. troops serving in the Vietnam War. Defense officials believe the bacteria has the potential to be used in biological weapons. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classified it a Category B biological weapons agent.
• Francisella tularensis is a "very hardy bacteria ... one of the most infectious disease causing bacteria known. It is found predominantly in rodents, rabbits and hares," according to a military health document. The bacteria causes the disease tularemia, and the Pentagon is concerned about its use as a potential biological agent because a tiny amount of the bacteria can spread disease. The CDC calls it a Category A biological weapons agent.
The Anacor contract was the first announced award from a February 2011 research request seeking multiple proposals for methods to fight biological warfare threats and other weapons of mass destruction. The company, which was founded in 2002, has long focused on researching possible treatments for tularemia, anthrax and other diseases.
Melioidosis has been a topic of intense interest at DTRA. Last month, the agency said it was looking for research on how to stop diseases and biological agents that "pose a material threat sufficient to affect the United States' national security."
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The latest award shows a continued focus on potential threats in Asia, where the Obama administration is dedicating more resources in hopes of stemming Chinese military expansion and influence.
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