On January 19, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (“DARPA”) issued a new solicitation in the form of a broad agency announcement for the Preventing Emerging Pathogenic Threats—or “PREEMPT”—program. The program will be managed by the DARPA Biological Technologies Office, which generally supports activities that integrate biology, engineering, computer science, physical sciences, and mathematics.

The goal of the program is to support research and development relating to new tools, models, and technologies that are focused on preventing the transition of viral threats from animals to humans. In contrast to recent biodefense efforts that have largely been initiated in response to significant human outbreaks, such as in connection with Ebola, influenza, and Zika, the program targets animal-based viruses that have yet to become an active threat to humans. In addition, consistent with DARPA’s mission, the program targets animal-based viruses that have a potential to impact deployed U.S. military forces, particularly with respect to remote geographic areas associated with prevalent endemic and emerging diseases.

Continue Reading DARPA Targets Animal-Based Viral Threats in Solicitation for PREEMPT Program

Last week, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (“DARPA”) issued a new broad agency announcement (“BAA”) seeking proposals to support the creation of an integrated “capability platform” for the delivery of medical countermeasures to prevent a pandemic threat within sixty days of targeting a known or newly emerging pathogen.  The BAA confirms DARPA’s commitment to addressing national security concerns raised by both naturally occurring public health emergencies and bioterrorism, as well other biological threats to members of the U.S. military.  Learning from recent experiences with Ebola, Zika, and Middle East respiratory syndrome, DARPA is targeting prophylactic solutions that are designed to prevent or halt the spread of an infectious outbreak, rather than solutions intended solely or primarily to treat infected individuals.

DARPA’s approach is consistent with recent guidance from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology in that it focuses on platform technologies and processes, which represent general approaches to medical countermeasure development that can be rapidly and reliably applied to varying threats.  The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority has adopted a similar focus in its own platform-based BAA, and additional opportunities for platform development will likely arise in the near future under the most recent strategy and implementation plan of the Public Health Emergency Medical Countermeasures Enterprise.

Continue Reading DARPA Seeks to Establish New Platforms for Rapid Development of Medical Countermeasures

Concerns about the spread of Zika virus and potential complications associated with infection may soon lead to new research and development opportunities for government contractors and grant recipients.  Similar to developments after the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa, a need to better understand Zika’s characteristics and develop an effective countermeasure or vaccine has led both domestic and international public bodies and private industry to begin mobilizing resources in response to the virus.  As a result, both new and existing contractual vehicles will likely be used to fund a wide array of activities, extending from epidemiological studies to the development of new diagnostics and countermeasures.

Similar to yellow fever, dengue, West Nile, and Japanese encephalitis viruses, Zika is a flavivirus that is generally transmitted through mosquitoes.  Although Zika was first discovered in 1947, it has only recently been identified as a significant threat to public health based on a potential connection between Zika and microcephaly in newborns—a condition associated with incomplete brain development.  Recent events have also provided additional evidence of a potential link between Zika and Guillain-Barré syndrome, which is a nervous system disorder that could affect Zika’s carriers.

Previously, the virus was understood to have relatively limited consequences, only causing mild, flu-like symptoms in one of five of its hosts.  However, an outbreak of the virus in French Polynesia in 2013 and 2014 has now been associated with an increase in cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome.  In addition, an ongoing outbreak of the virus that began in Brazil last year has affected over one million individuals and been linked to both an increased incidence of Guillain-Barré syndrome and a dramatic rise in cases of microcephaly.  Zika RNA has been discovered in the amniotic fluid of women with affected fetuses in Brazil, and a recent report indicates that an affected newborn in Hawaii acquired Zika in the womb.

Continue Reading Zika Virus Complications Lead to Expected Government Partnership with Private Industry

The private sector is likely to produce critical cyber innovations—at least, that is what the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (“DARPA”) and the U.K. Centre for Defence Enterprise (“CDE”) would like to see.

In the United States, although the internet may have been invented at DARPA, DARPA is turning to a private sector competition