Washington Insider-- Wednesday

New Efforts to Prevent Future Pandemics

Here's a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN's well-placed observer.

New Republican Members Of House Ag Committee Set

There will be seven new Republican members of the House Ag Committee, according to recommendations from the House Republican Steering Committee.

New members include Reps. Michelle Fischbach of Minnesota, Tracey Mann of Kansas, Randy Feenstra of Iowa, Michael Cloud of Texas, Kat Cammack of Florida, Barry Moore of Alabama and Mary Miller of Illinois. Democrats have not yet finalized their Ag panel membership.

The new slate of members underscores the need for educating new members on U.S. farm policy, a situation which has seemingly increased with each election cycle as members with years/decades of experience in farm policy are either replaced or retire.

Proposed Rule From EPA On Biofuel and Biodiesel Levels Formally Withdrawn From OMB Review

The proposed rule on 2021 biofuel and 2022 biodiesel levels under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) that has been shown as under review at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) since May has been formally withdrawn.

The development means that the Biden administration EPA will now have to send forth a new proposed rule on the levels. The Trump administration had previously set a goal of putting for the proposed levels by December and finalizing them by June. It is not clear what the new timeline will be for the proposed and final levels.

The move is not surprising given the Biden administration undertaking a review of uncompleted and completed regulations from the Trump administration.

Normally, the proposed RFS levels are released in June or July of the year prior to them taking effect with a statutory deadline of November 30 for the levels to be finalized for the coming year (biodiesel levels are set a year in advance).


Washington Insider: New Efforts to Prevent Future Pandemics

Bloomberg is reporting this week that the new Biden administration is arguing that even without a “home run antiviral” for COVID-19, Dr. Francis Collins is proposing a big push to develop a treatment from scratch to prepare for future coronavirus outbreaks.

That work will likely take several years, the longtime director of the National Institutes of Health acknowledged. By then the nation should be long past “herd immunity” in the present crisis.” But even with the unprecedented success of vaccine development for COVID-19 — much of which built on decades of basic research funded at the NIH — Collins sees the need for a lot of work ahead.

“We must not lose this opportunity. Even as we hope we're going to get past the worst of SARS-CoV-2, we've got to keep this momentum going. There will be other pandemics. And some of them may very well be coronaviruses.”

When Dr. Collins was reappointed to lead the nation's biomedical research programs, he became the only NIH director to be tapped by three different presidents for the role — and also will be one of the longest-serving NIH directors of all time.

Collins said that Jan. 22 was the third day working under his third administration — and he focused on priorities both for the COVID-19 response and beyond.

The decision to keep Collins isn't surprising, as he's one of the few bipartisan political appointees in a very partisan environment, Bloomberg said. President Barack Obama first nominated Collins in 2009 and it was a group of Republicans who urged then President-elect Donald Trump in late 2016 to keep him.

Collins said that his renomination came after a “very nice, brief conversation” with President-elect Joe Biden about the need for consistent leadership in an important moment for biomedical research and how the two had worked well together when Biden was the vice president. Biden led the Cancer Moonshot initiative to double the rate of progress on cancer prevention and therapies.

Biden told Collins that “he had a lot of confidence in what he was doing and what he could do. And so, he was saying, and asked, Will you agree to be carried over?' And, of course, I said yes.”

“Of course, Tony Fauci is very much in the center of what is being done about COVID. And Tony and I do speak nowadays several times a day on making sure to make the most of this opportunity for science to lead the effort,” he said, referring to the director of the NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who's Biden's chief medical adviser on COVID-19.

Their priorities include more work on vaccines, new therapeutics, and better tests, Collins said.

On the vaccine effort, NIH is starting a program to understand whether virus mutations lessen how well vaccines and monoclonal antibodies work. They're also working on a testing pilot project with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that would essentially flood a community with free, at home testing to see if it changes behaviors.

“We are still not yet at the point where we need to be in terms of knowing what's the right approach to testing to get schools reopened, to make it safe for everybody to come back to the workplace, to open up restaurants and other places that people would like to go, which is just not safe right now,” Collins said.

Collins said he hopes the testing pilot program will be up and running in a few weeks.

On therapeutics, Collins said the agency has worked to identify the most promising ideas among hundreds and hundreds to put them into well-designed, rigorous, and faster, protocolâ??driven clinical trials. There have been some successes, including recent findings that full-dose blood thinners reduce the need for life support and led to better outcomes for hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

Collins said “the study showed actually it caused no more side effects—and that it was clearly successful in terms of keeping people from ending up on the ventilator.”

Scientists are also moving forward with more monoclonal antibody therapeutics, Collins said. But long term there's a need to develop antivirals that are specific to the coronavirus, such as remdesivir, an antiviral mediation.

“We hoped that there might be some that had already been developed for other viruses and remdesivir was really the only one that came through. But it is not a home run. It's a benefit, but it's not what you really hope to have,” Collins said.

The NIH director said he's hoping there will be additional funding, particularly under supplemental virus relief packages. While the pandemic has been the top R&D priority, Collins mentioned a number of other research areas he wants to advance as part of the $42.9 billion agency he oversees. These include cancer immunotherapy, gene therapy, and research in Alzheimer's disease, the opioid crisis and the long-term effects of COVID-19.

“That's just a short list,” he said. “We really want to get fully empowered again.”

So, we will see. There is still a “fog of war” surrounding the virus, its mutations and how best to treat it and how to prevent similar outbreaks in the future, so Dr. Collins and his colleagues have their work cut out for them for some time. These efforts will be central to full U.S. economic recovery, and producers should watch them closely as they continue to be implemented, Washington Insider believes.

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