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News from the National Academies
Date: July 27, 2005
Contacts: Vanee Vines, Senior Media Relations Officer
Megan Petty, Media Relations Assistant
Office of News and Public Information
202-334-2138; e-mail <news@nas.edu>

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Partnerships Are Key to Rejuvenating Russia's Capacity
To Combat Infectious Diseases

WASHINGTON -- U.S.-Russian collaboration in the biological sciences and biotechnology over the past decade has not only fostered scientific and public health gains for both countries, but also increased mutual confidence that cooperative research in sensitive areas can be directed exclusively to peaceful purposes. To enhance such cooperation and improve Russia's ability to combat disease, the U.S. and Russian governments should establish a joint commission on infectious diseases to identify high-payoff research areas of global significance and promote collaborative activities, says a new report from the National Academies' National Research Council. Furthermore, the United States can play an important role in supporting Russia's efforts to revitalize its public health infrastructure by encouraging balanced partnerships to replace outmoded relationships.

"Given its well-trained scientific work force and vast ecological variation, Russia should become a leader in global efforts to combat infectious diseases," said David Franz, chief biological scientist, Midwest Research Institute, Kansas City, Mo., and chair of the committee that prepared the report. "Russia has made strides in many areas, but financial constraints have impeded its ability to join with the United States and the international community in major initiatives to control diseases and to enhance biosecurity on a global scale. To achieve these objectives, international support will be important, as will a sustained recognition among U.S. and Russian policy-makers of the mutual benefits of cooperation."

The committee identified four priority areas to spur further development of Russia's public health system and biological research and development enterprise:

Public health surveillance and response. The committee suggested the creation of two model surveillance centers to monitor, diagnose, and assess disease trends and outbreaks. These centers could set important standards for the eventual upgrade of Russia's entire network of surveillance centers. As envisioned by the study committee, the models would be electronically linked to many other Russian facilities, the World Health Organization, and partner organizations around the world. Additionally, Russia's five anti-plague institutes could make much larger contributions to disease surveillance if they were more fully integrated into the country's national health surveillance system, and then into global networks. Also, the country's agricultural surveillance system, which monitors outbreaks of animal diseases such as avian influenza, could play a greater role if it were more closely linked with public health networks, the report says.

Pathogen research. More financial support from the Russian government, as well as foreign partners, for pathogen research at carefully selected labs that are or could become centers of scientific excellence would significantly improve the nation's research infrastructure. A fair and open competitive process should be used to distribute research funds. Facility and equipment upgrades also are needed at many key labs, the report adds.

Biotechnology. The development of an internationally competitive biotechnology sector that would bolster the country's disease-control efforts is still a long way off, but Russia is making significant progress toward that goal, the report says. Consistent tax policies, intellectual-property rights that reward scientific achievement, and streamlined procedures for licensing facilities and approving products are among the steps that could encourage domestic and foreign investment.

Human resources. Talented young biologists, epidemiologists, veterinarians, engineers, medical doctors, and other specialists are essential to maintain the momentum that is slowly building in these fields in Russia. Mentoring programs that prepare young researchers for scientific leadership positions could help stem the flow of Russian scientists leaving the country. Advanced training for both young and established researchers, conducted at leading research and disease-monitoring centers in Russia and abroad, could also be helpful.

Bilateral cooperation between the United States and Russia should remain an important part of Russia's strategy for reviving its biological capabilities and advancing the evolution of a viable biotechnology sector. An expansion of collaborative nonproliferation programs could speed the integration of former Soviet biodefense facilities into Russia's civilian research infrastructure, with benefits for both countries. Also, to foster balanced partnerships on the whole, Russian scientists and research managers must have larger roles in establishing priorities and designing joint programs and projects that involve the United States and other nations.

The study was sponsored by the Nuclear Threat Initiative and the National Research Council. The Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. It is a private, nonprofit institution that provides science and technology advice under a congressional charter. A committee roster follows.


Copies of Biological Science and Biotechnology in Russia: Controlling Diseases and Enhancing Security will be available this summer from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at http://www.nap.edu. Reporters may obtain a pre-publication copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).


[ This news release and report are available at http://national-academies.org ]


NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
Division on Policy and Global Affairs
Development, Security, and Cooperation

Committee on Future Contributions of the Biosciences to Public Health, Agriculture, Basic Research, Counterterrorism, and Nonproliferation Activities in Russia

David R. Franz, D.V.M., Ph.D. (chair)
Chief Biological Scientist
Midwest Research Institute
Frederick, Md.

David Ashford, D.V.M., M.P.H., D.Sc.
Epidemiologist
National Center for Environmental Health
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Atlanta

Carol D. Blair, Ph.D.
Professor of Microbiology
Colorado State University
Fort Collins

Gail H. Cassell, Ph.D.1
Vice President for Scientific Affairs, and
Distinguished Lilly Research Scholar for Infectious Disease
Eli Lilly and Co.
Indianapolis

Maurice R. Hilleman, Ph.D.1,2 (deceased)
Director, Merck Institute, and
Former Senior Vice President
Merck Research Laboratories
West Point, Pa.

Christopher P. Howson, Ph.D.
Vice President for Global Programs
March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation
White Plains, N.Y.

Peter B. Jahrling, Ph.D.
Scientific Adviser and Senior Research Scientist
U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases
Fort Detrick, Md.

Paul Keim, Ph.D.
Cowden Endowed Chair in Microbiology
Northern Arizona University, and
Director of Pathogen Genomics
Translational Genomics Research Institute
Flagstaff

James W. LeDuc, M.S.P.H., Ph.D.
Director, Division of Viral and Rickettsial Diseases
National Center for Infectious Diseases
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Atlanta

Matthew S. Meselson, Ph.D.1,2
Thomas Dudley Cabot Professor of Natural Sciences
Harvard University, and
Co-Director
Harvard-Sussex Program on Chemical and Biological Warfare Armament and Arms Limitation
Cambridge, Mass.

Rebecca Morton, Ph.D.
Professor
Department of Veterinary Pathobiology
Oklahoma State University
Oklahoma City

Frederick A. Murphy, D.V.M., Ph.D.1
Professor
School of Veterinary Medicine
University of California
Davis

Joseph Silva, M.D.
Dean
School of Medicine
University of California
Davis

Richard L. Witter, D.V.M., Ph.D.2
Collaborator
USDA-ARS Avian Disease and Oncology Laboratory
East Lansing, Mich.

Russ Zajtchuk, M.D.
Professor Emeritus
Department of Surgery
Rush University Hospitals, and
Chief Executive Officer
Chicago Hospitals International LLC
Chicago

RESEARCH COUNCIL STAFF

Glenn E. Schweitzer, M.A.
Study Director

Rita S. Guenther, M.A.
Senior Program Associate


1 Member, Institute of Medicine
2 Member, National Academy of Sciences