Achaogen in San Francisco, CA is working on “preclinical development of novel therapeutics that reduce the virulence of, and inhibit resistance in, Class A Bacterial Pathogens.” Achaogen closed a $26 million round of venture financing in October 2006, and they had raised $103 million in equity by March 2011. Their approach focuses on small molecules that inhibit the emergence of bacterial resistance to antibiotics. Initial efforts had the goal of making the bacteria susceptible to existing fluoroquinolones, and potentially to other classes of antibacterial drugs.
So, just what are “Class A bacterial pathogens?” You certainly know some of them by name.
The US Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) has a central role in addressing the threat of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Their Research and Development Enterprise [PDF] is especially wide-ranging, covering everything from protective gear, to predictive and decision-support algorithms, to ScanEagle UAV variants that can monitor WMD levels, to co-operative non-proliferation programs, to development of new weapons like the Massive Ordnance Penetrator. Some of this work has even led to commercial spinoffs, vid. Sanofi Pasteur’s acquisition of VaxDesign and its DARPA/DTRA-financed MIMC model: an in vitro tool capable of predicting human immune response to specific bio-threat agents.
Through the Co-operative Threat Reduction program, the Department of Defense provides equipment, services, and technical advice to Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine to assist them in eliminating (or in the case of Russia, reducing) the weapons of mass destruction remaining from the Soviet era, and preventing proliferation. That means dismantling the associated infrastructure, or transforming portions of it to engage in peaceful civilian activities.
The U.S. objectives in the CTR program as established by Congress are to cooperate with the Newly Independent States (NIS) of the former Soviet Union to:
Significant progress at AVI Biopharma? (Aug 22/10)
The Defense Threat Reduction Agency at Fort Belvoir, VA is awarding contracts to find new anti-viral compounds that are effective against hemorrhagic fever viruses, a class that includes Ebola and other diseases.
Drug development is a long and expensive process ($100 million is often mentioned as the table stakes to get a drug through approvals), and promising therapies do not all make it through the research and testing stages. Even so, the research is interesting:
PolyMedix of Radnor, PA has now received 3 biodefense-related contracts from the US government, including a a $1.6 million, 1-year contract from the US Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) to develop new “defensin-mimetic antibiotic compounds.” The primary goal of that contract is to devise more effective rapid-response countermeasures against anthrax, plague, and tularemia. Other work may have benefits against pan-Staphylococcal infections, and pneumonia.
How does their proposed approach work, and what makes it novel?
How do you train militaries and public agencies for the challenges and scale of nuclear, chemical, or biological (NBC) attacks or outbreaks, without creating unacceptable levels of disruption in society’s daily workings during the exercise? The US military has similar scope and space problems for other military exercises. Its solution is a combination of live training, virtual simulators et. al., and “constructive” environments. That last piece of the puzzle integrates the live and virtual efforts in an imaginary world, and provides status reports to commanders.
Right now, the “live virtual constructive” training environment for NBC operations appears to be falling short of its goals. To fix this, Cubic Applications, Inc. in Lacey, WA received a not-to-exceed $16.3 million cost-plus-fix-fee contract. They will provide investigative research and analysis, explore emerging technologies, and develop proof-of-concept/ prototype solutions to the shortfalls in realistic Nuclear, Chemical and Biological training. The goal is to create “a single, more realistic operational and training environment for the Live Virtual Constructive.”
Work will be performed in Shalimar, FL and is expected to be complete in May 2011. Contract funds in the amount of $2 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was competitively procured via a Broad Agency Announcement, with 1 offer received by The Naval Air Warfare Center, Training Systems Division in Orlando, FL (N61339-08-C-0024).
Science Applications International Corporation recently announced an indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity, joint services contract from the U.S. Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) — Installation Protection Program (IPP). The program was initiated in December 2003, and is managed by the Joint Project Manager Guardian (JPMG) for the Joint Program Executive Office (JPEO) for Chemical and Biological Defense, and the goal is to ensure that American military installations can continue operating after being hit with CBRN weapons.
The concept is nothing new. After all, that very motivation is what spurred the creation of the ARPANet – now the Internet. In Europe, NATO’s reliance on nuclear deterrence rather than conventional military parity made military operations in a nuclear environment a certain planning scenario. Meanwhile, Soviet doctrine emphasized heavy front line and second echelon use of chemical weapons in a major war’s opening offensive phases, forcing corresponding bio-chemical preparations. Biological weapon defenses were considered a secondary aspect, but that conceit was shaken after advanced, treaty-breaking Soviet biological weapons programs came to light through the post-Soviet revelations of scientists like Dr. Ken Alibek.
The need for JPMG’s IPP is nothing new, therefore. What has changed is the depth profile of the threat. A Soviet strike on the Pentagon would almost certainly have triggered global thermonuclear war, in a way that chemical or even nuclear strikes across and behind the front lines in West Germany and the Netherlands likely would not. On the other hand, it’s quite possible to launch a strike against the Pentagon in the modern era, using supported organizations that confer deniability. With the notion of restrictions on targets or means destroyed by 9/11’s example, modern planners are faced with a growing threat in the new era that extends to a much wider range of military installations.
SAIC worked with JPMG on the original contract, and the new contract has a one year base period of performance plus 4 one-year options, with a contract ceiling value of $500 million if all options are exercised. SAIC will provide program management and execution of all phases of the IPP’s design, purchases, integration and fielding. They will then support the system’s architecture, training and exercises, and logistics, while providing technical expertise, equipment, and services to meet current program requirements. Work will be performed primarily in Abingdon, MD.
Genetic Chemistry, Inc. in Palo Alto, CA received a $6 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for “research to develop countermeasures to an intercellular bio threat agent.”
Work will be performed in Palo Alto, CA and is expected to be complete by July 28/11. Multiple bids were solicited in October 2006, and 1 bid was received by the Research, Development & Engineering Command Acquisition Center in Research Triangle Park, NC (W911NF-08-C-0023).
The ability to use open-source operating systems like Linux with “clusters” of computing hardware that include many commodity components has really changed the supercomputing landscape. Complex physics-based problems that are three dimensional and time-dependent are especially difficult, and benefit greatly from the additional computing power per dollar that’s rapidly becoming available. This has had a significant impact in sectors like movies and TV, energy, and pharmaceuticals – not to mention the defense industry.
The DoD’s High Performance Computing Modernization Program (HPCMP) recently placed an order with Linux Networx for 5 supercomputers as part of the Technology Insertion 2006 (TI-06) initiative. They are part of a broader effort to modernize the US DoD’s computing capabilities, by providing the supercomputer services, high-speed network communications, and expertise for U.S. Defense laboratories. The recipients, and the type and capabilities of the systems they received, are detailed below:
Raytheon Technical Services Company LLC (RTSC) received a task order with a potential value of $82.1 million from the United States Defense Threat Reduction Agency, a.k.a. Nunn-Lugar. The task order is for assistance under the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program.
The U.S. Department of Defense provides equipment, services, and technical advice under CTR to Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine. The aims are to assist them in eliminating (or in the case of Russia, reducing) the weapons of mass destruction remaining from the Soviet era, prevent proliferation, foster military cooperation, and dismantle the associated infrastructure or transforming portions of it to engage in peaceful civilian activities. The CTR program is implemented by means of a number of subsidiary programs that are focused on meeting these four objectives.