Obama boosts bioterrorism defenses

Federal officials announced that they are stepping up efforts to prepare for pandemics and bioterrorism attacks.

The Health and Human Services (HHS) Department will sponsor three biodefense centers to develop vaccines and other medical responses that might be needed during a major health emergency, billing the effort as the "first major domestic infrastructure" investment of its kind.

The centers will also oversee research and training related to bioterrorism threats. Together, they will have the capacity to produce one-quarter of the nation’s pandemic influenza vaccine "within four months of the onset of a pandemic," according to HHS.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius called the effort a "dramatic step forward" in making sure that the United States is ready to face those threats.

The centers "will improve our ability to protect Americans’ health in an emergency and help fill gaps in preparedness so that our nation can respond to known or unknown threats," she said in a statement.

The three centers — known as Centers for Innovation in Advanced Development and Manufacturing — will be located in Texas, Maryland and North Carolina.

The contract won by Texas A&M University can be renewed for 25 years, meaning it could be worth $1.5 to $2 billion over its lifespan, the Houston Chronicle reported.

"It’s the biggest federal grant to come to Texas since NASA, quite frankly," Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp said, according to the paper.

Like its Maryland and North Carolina counterparts, the Texas center will be run with HHS, industry partners and many other public and private researchers. All three centers will become operational in 2014 or 2015.

—Updated at 2:05 p.m.