Saturday, February 5, 2011

Going Viral

My father, Dr. Darrell Galloway, "retired" about a year ago, in December 2009. Since then he's been doing some of the usual retirement things, but also fielding consulting offers from various company boards, universities and the government. The civilian equivalent of an Admiral, he headed up billion dollar programs at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) for the Pentagon (DoD) assigned to research and counter biological weapons, including launching a program called "Transformational Medical Technologies Initiative (TMTI)".

TMTI, how it was used to combat the swine flu and my father were the subjects of a recent article in the New Yorker, called "Going Viral" (Full Article), written by Pulitzer Prize winning author David E. Hoffman. Hoffman's article is well written and it's actually a fun read, without much technical jargon. I could even see it being adapted into a film akin to "Outbreak", or "The Andromeda Strain".
On Tuesday night, April 28, 2009, Darrell Galloway, a senior official at the Pentagon’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency, watched a news report from Mexico City about a new strain of influenza known as swine flu that was spreading fast. That night, Galloway, a microbiologist, resolved to do something about it. He was authorized by the military to work on a specific set of threatening diseases that were considered potential weapons in war or in terrorism, including anthrax, smallpox, plague, and the Ebola and Marburg hemorrhagic fevers. Influenza was outside his focus, but the next morning, Galloway summoned his staff and announced that they were to begin work immediately on creating a new antiviral drug to combat swine flu.
I remember that well because at the time I was planning a trip to Mexico City, and he urged me to reconsider. I ended up going anyway, but about a month later instead. Fortunately, I didn't get sick at all, not even with Montezuma's revenge.

From left: Darrell Galloway, David Hoffman, Pat Iverson, Randy Kincaid.

TMTI's basic initiative is to modernize and speed up the development of vaccines and therapeutics against deadly pathogens, and the swine flu was a perfect way to test its rapid response capabilities. Ironically, it seems the biggest hurdles to rapidity were politics and overzealous DoD bureaucrats concerned with protocol. Eschewing these obstacles, Dr. Galloway decided to take matters into his own hands, and in the end the work was vindicated making TMTI a permanent program at the DoD.
In January, 2010, President Obama, in his State of the Union address, promised "a new initiative that will give us the capacity to respond faster and more effectively to bioterrorism or an infectious disease."
He did complain about the politics from time to time, but that must have felt good.