Mar 15, 2024 - Health

Hypothetical Disease X drives real spending

Illustration of a coronavirus cell in curly quotes.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Disease X may still be a hypothetical threat. But the risk from a new pathogen many times deadlier than COVID-19 is driving more spending decisions on rapid tests, antimicrobial drugs and other countermeasures.

Why it matters: The fiscal 2025 budget the Biden administration rolled out this week and the intelligence community's annual threat assessment point out biodefense vulnerabilities that were laid bare by the COVID-19 experience.

  • The concern is that cracks in the nation's health security systems, public mistrust and medical misinformation could combine to limit the response to another global pandemic.

Follow the money: The 2025 defense budget designates $42 million to improve early warning of novel and emerging pathogens — including deliberately engineered ones.

  • The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority would get an additional $20 million for new projects, including diagnostics for use in the early days of a novel disease outbreak.
  • GeneCapture in Huntsville, Alabama, is developing a rapid test to identify conceptual pathogens like Disease X under a $2.5 million contract with the Department of Defense.

Between the lines: The Pentagon is getting more involved in diagnostic tests due to concerns about force readiness.

Reality check: A broad pandemic preparedness reform package remains stalled in Congress by disagreements over issues like how to address drug shortages.

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