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Jeffrey Romoff

Jeffrey Romoff
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UPMC Media Relations

Nations Preeminent Biodefense Strategic Planning and Policy Group Joins UPMC

PITTSBURGH, September 17, 2003 Bioterrorism is the greatest national security threat of the 21st century. Bioweapons attacks could cause death and suffering on a catastrophic scale, wreak enormous economic and social disruption and even threaten core democratic processes. Adequate response to this threat does not depend on our military strength but on medical and public health systems and availability of effective drugs and vaccines, Tara OToole, M.D., M.P.H.

In a move that will establish the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) and the University of Pittsburgh as the international leader in the critical, high-profile and rapidly expanding field of bioterrorism preparedness, research and response, the creation of the Center for Biosecurity of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) was announced today.

This Center will result from the move to UPMC, on November 1, of the worlds leading center for biodefense research and analysis, the Johns Hopkins Center for Civilian Biodefense Strategies. The new Center for Biosecurity will have its headquarters in Baltimore, Md., with offices in Pittsburgh and in Washington, D.C.

The centers eight faculty members will receive appointments at the University of Pittsburgh's School of Medicine and Graduate School of Public Health.

The most celebrated member of the new center is the legendary D.A. Henderson, M.D., M.P.H., known worldwide for his work in eradicating smallpox. More recently, he served from 2001 to 2003 as President George W. Bushs chief bioterrorism advisor. In this capacity, Henderson first became aware of the work being done in Pittsburgh when he accompanied the president on his visit to the University and UPMC on February 5, 2002. In addition, two other internationally recognized faculty will lead the Center for Biosecurity of UPMC: Tara OToole, M.D., M.P.H., a former assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Energy, the Centers chief executive officer, and Thomas V. Inglesby, M.D., chief operations officer.

This renowned strategic policy group, coupled with our existing faculty and operational resources, will place Pittsburgh at the very pinnacle of international leadership in this field, stated Jeffrey Romoff, UPMC President. Models for bioterrorism response developed in this region can become the template for the nation, and vaccines and drugs developed in our laboratories will have the potential to save thousands of lives in the event of such a devastating attack.

We have made a commitment to this region to help ensure public safety and maintain medical coverage in the event of a biological attack, Romoff continued. Along with the University of Pittsburgh, we have supported research in this area and have put into place comprehensive operational systems for disaster preparedness. This new Center for Biosecurity elevates our commitment to both a national and international level.

Faculty from the new Center for Biosecurity of UPMC chose to join the organization for the purpose of extending their work to the next level. They see UPMC, one of the most highly integrated major health care systems in the nation, as an unmatched learning laboratory for the testing and implementation of the concepts and policies emanating from their Center.

This group has earned an international reputation for its biodefense work. Faculty from the Center published the definitive papers on public health and medical management of the six major bioweapons-related diseases in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). They also convened the first two national conferences on bioterrorism for medical and public health professionals and the highly regarded and influential Dark Winter exercise, a fictional scenario depicting a covert smallpox attack in the United States. They founded and edit the only peer-reviewed journal devoted to biodefense. Through their work with congressional and administration leadership, state governments and academic and scientific organizations, the Centers faculty played a major role in increasing federal funding for bioterrorism from $8 million in 1998 to $4.5 billion in 2003.

In 1998, long before Sept. 11 or the subsequent anthrax attacks, Drs. Henderson, OToole and Inglesby had the foresight to establish the first academic center devoted to biodefense, stated Mark A. Nordenberg, University of Pittsburgh Chancellor.

Nordenberg went on to say that in 1998 there were no other think tanks or governmental initiatives devoted to preventing the development of biological weapons, lessening their power, or alleviating the human suffering if prevention did not work. Their multidisciplinary and rigorous scientific approach to this mission quickly established them with governmental bodies, scientists, the medical community and the media as undisputed authorities in this arena.

We are pleased to welcome such visionary and prominent scientists to our faculty, Nordenberg continued.

Why the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center?

We believe deeply that the bioterrorism threat is substantial, growing and urgent, stated D.A. Henderson, M.D., M.P.H., senior advisor to the new center. UPMC is uniquely positioned to be a leader in biodefense because it is one of the most highly integrated major health care systems in the nation its 20 hospitals and 37,000 employees are organized in a way that facilitates rapid communication, resource sharing, planning and coordination of health services that provide care for a large portion of western Pennsylvania, he continued.

Henderson went on to say that the breadth and integration of the UPMC hospital system makes it the ideal platform in the country upon which to design and test critical prototypes for medical and public health biopreparedness.

The group believes that by working with UPMC, many of the necessary model programs for biodefense can be developed in western Pennsylvania and their usefulness proven. The existence of workable model programs will mean that national defense dollars can be realigned and, not only Pittsburgh, but municipalities throughout the country, will receive much needs support for their police, fire departments and health care facilities that will be on the front lines to deal with such a disaster. The major impediment to this deployment of funds occurring now is the lack of adequate models.

Biological weapons could cause death and suffering on a level paralleled only by nuclear weapons, stated Tara OToole, M.D., M.P.H. Even though modern societies are highly vulnerable to bioattacks, we are woefully unprepared to deal with the consequences of such an attack, OToole continued.

She went on to say that society must develop new paradigms because responding to the consequences of bioattacks will not depend on our military strength but on medical and public health systems and the availability of effective drugs and vaccines. She said the government cannot build these systems alone, but must rely on health care centers and scientific institutions to develop workable civil defense models and effective drugs and vaccines.

The time has come to put the body of knowledge that has been developed into practice, and we are grateful that UPMC has given us the opportunity to do so, Dr. OToole continued.

A board of directors will oversee the Center and its CEO will report directly to the president of UPMC.

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