The rise of drug-resistant bacteria and other biological threats has pushed the Pentagon to seek help developing small molecules that can stop some of the world’s most dangerous pathogens.
The Defense Threat Reduction Agency, which seeks ways to stop or limit the effects of weapons of mass destruction such as biological weapons, is exploring the availability of researchers who can find small organic molecule inhibitors that can either slow or kill the growing number of drug-resistant bacteria, including the 11 pathogens on the government’s Tier 1 list.
Tier 1 pathogens include Bacillus anthracis, the agent of the cattle disease anthrax; Burkholderia mallei, which causes Glanders; Burkholderia pseudomallei, which causes melioidosis; Yersinia pestis, the bacteria in the bubonic plague, and Ebola. The Tier 1 list was created in June 2011 by a panel of government officials and experts in biological threats.
DTRA’s call is part of the evolving government response to the threat of chemical and biological weapons and threats from inside the government who may turn those weapons against U.S. citizens.
Executive Order 13546, signed by President Obama on July 2, 2010, called for improving the security of “biological select agents and toxins” in the United States, particularly those handled by employees at government agencies. It was one of a series of government steps taken after white powder containing military-grade anthrax was mailed by a Defense Department scientist to congressional and media offices in the fall of 2001. Five people died and 17 others were infected during those attacks.
The order also called for the creation of the Tier 1 list “that presents the greatest risk of deliberate misuse with most significant potential for mass casualties or devastating effects to the economy, critical infrastructure, or public confidence.”