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Last Updated

04 Nov 2002

Source: New York Times, November 25, 2001.


Turner's Foundation to Spend Millions to Fight Bioterrorism


Ted Turner, who invented all-news television and is helping to subsidize the United Nations, has taken on a new challenge: reducing the threat of biological weapons.

Spurred by the events of Sept. 11 and the anthrax-tainted letters sent to news organizations and Capitol Hill, a foundation headed by Mr. Turner and Sam Nunn, the former Democratic senator from Georgia, has decided to increase spending aimed at deterring bioterrorism and the threat of germ weapons.

The fledgling foundation, the Nuclear Threat Initiative, which began operating only in January, decided months before Sept. 11 to devote some of its planned $250 million in grants over the next five years to combating threats posed not only by nuclear weapons, but also by chemical and germ weapons. But foundation executives said last week that their emphasis had shifted somewhat following the mysterious anthrax attacks that have infected 18 people, 5 of whom have died.

Foundation representatives said the board approved almost $5 million in initial grants at its October meeting. Ultimately, they said, the foundation would spend about a third of its estimated $50 million in grants each year on combating bioweapons and bioterrorism.

"Reducing the threat of biological weapons has always been our primary mission, but the events of Sept. 11 have led to new opportunities to address preparedness and consequence management," said Margaret A. Hamburg, a former assistant secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services in the Clinton administration who heads the foundation's biological projects.

The new grants, which the foundation's representatives discussed in interviews, involve both foreign and domestic threats and private and public partnerships. The largest category is about $2.4 million in initial grants to finance scientific collaboration with scientists who once worked in the former Soviet Union's covert biological weapons program. The investment supplements federal efforts to help Soviet scientists who once made biological weapons find peaceful employment working with American scientists on antidotes for those weapons.

The largest project -- $1.3 million for three former Soviet labs in Russia -- is intended to help develop a new vaccine against brucellosis, which threatens animals in the United States and throughout the world.

Another project will provide $600,000 to the Vector lab in Novosibirsk, Russia, which once specialized in turning smallpox and other viruses into weapons of war. The grant will finance a study of how Vector can best attract commercial investors in a new vaccine production facility. About $400,000 has also been allocated to helping identify Western drug companies willing to work with former Soviet bioweaponeers on commercial ventures.

The foundation also intends to bring at least 20 former Soviet bioweapons scientists together each year with American scientists in the United States to discuss germ weapon threats.

In Europe, the foundation has allocated $500,000 to help the Geneva- based World Health Organization establish a revolving fund so that doctors can respond quickly to outbreaks of a mysterious illnesses.

In the United States, the foundation has awarded $650,000 to help industry develop standards to reduce the potential for harmful applications of biotechnology and create a group to monitor the standards, and will give $400,000 to help the National Academy of Sciences draft standards to guard against the destructive application of biotechnologies.