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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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.
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