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Pandemic Readiness Bill Pushes CDC-Private Sector Partnerships

Feb. 3, 2022, 8:57 PM

A sweeping pandemic preparedness bill aims to encourage CDC collaboration with the private sector, an effort to break down an agency culture a top Republican described as so insular that it contributed to testing delays and other problems early in the pandemic.

“I think it’s cultural because there’s a fight to produce anything that’s not internally generated,” Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee as well as the architect of the 2006 Pandemic and All Hazards Preparedness Act and its two reauthorizations, said during a briefing Thursday.

Burr and HELP Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) released last week a draft version of their latest pandemic bill known as the PREVENT Pandemics Act, which calls for several changes to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It would, among other things, authorize the CDC director to continue activities related to developing capabilities for disease outbreak forecasts and analysis, “including by leveraging the capabilities of public and private entities,” according to a bill summary.

The CDC “has no public-private partnership or relationship” historically, Burr said, but he noted that collaborations with the private sector such as Operation Warp Speed were key in developing Covid-19 vaccines in record time.

“The bill is heavy on CDC reform. Because to successfully achieve the type of framework we need for the future, it’s going to require three things: leadership, communication, and innovation. Leadership demands not only the ability to run an agency, but to seek out the help that you need to do it successfully,” he said.

Partnerships

The National Institutes of Health has a number of public-private partnerships, both to address the pandemic and ones formed earlier, such as one set up in 2014 with two dozen drug companies, U.S. and European regulators, and nonprofits to transform the development of diagnostics and treatments for diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

Burr indicated he wanted to see similar efforts at the CDC.

“When you challenge the private sector” and couple it with government-funded research, “they can accomplish amazing things very quickly,” he said.

Burr and Murray have indicated they’re open to additional legislative proposals as they finalize the bill, such as President Joe Biden’s proposal to establish the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H), a new entity to spur cutting edge biomedical discoveries similar to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

“Patty and I are committed to get a piece of legislation that’s right through the committee,” he said. “At the end of the day, it won’t have everything Republicans want and it won’t have everything Democrats want. But I think we’re going to be able to maintain a bipartisan approach to it.”

‘Single Most Important Thing’

A key change is that the CDC director’s position would require Senate confirmation, which Burr called “the single most important thing we did.” He noted that this isn’t a criticism of CDC Director Rochelle Walensky.

The change would make the agency head more accountable to Congress. The draft bill also would require the CDC director to appear before the HELP committee annually and for the agency to develop a strategic plan every four years.

The bulk of the work on the bill will happen in committee, so major negotiations will take place over the next several weeks in preparation for a committee markup that will tee the bill up for a floor vote.

Burr said he expects the bill to have a robust amendments process as it moves through the committee as well as the Senate floor.

“Our primary focus is on how do we skate to where the puck will be versus where the puck is today. We need to anticipate how do we build into that thought process a novel virus, or a novel anything that might be out there that we consider to be a threat,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeannie Baumann in Washington at jbaumann@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alexis Kramer at akramer@bloomberglaw.com; Karl Hardy at khardy@bloomberglaw.com