Block MEMS Awarded Phase III of $15.1 Million IARPA Contract to Detect Explosives, Drugs and other Threats

Block MEMS, LLC (Block) has been selected for Phase III of an Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) program for the standoff detection of trace and bulk quantities of drugs such as fentanyl, explosives, chemical warfare agents (CWAs) and toxic chemicals. Block is the only contractor selected for Phase III of the effort.

The IARPA program is called "Standoff Illuminator for Measuring Absorbance and Reflectance Infrared Light Signatures" (SILMARILS). With the recent $5.5 million Phase III award the total contract value of the Block effort is now at $15.1 million. The SILMARILS program is an IARPA effort, and the contract is executed by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

Under previous Phases, Block successfully demonstrated the ability of hyperspectral imaging using its eye-safe proprietary quantum cascade lasers to detect and map out the location of trace quantities of chemicals on a wide variety of surfaces at standoff distances of up to 25 meters. Furthermore, measurements could be made at high speeds, within a few seconds.

The goal of Phase III is to develop stand-off chemical detection capabilities with automated real-time processing that are suitable for three different applications: Long-range standoff for distances up to 30 meters that can be used to screen vehicles, outdoor surfaces, clothing, or other items; Moving targets to addresses the need to detect trace chemicals while objects are moving – e.g., for screening packages moving on a conveyor or for detecting CWAs on the ground in front of military vehicles; and Close-range that addresses the need for a compact system (potentially handheld) that can operate at a close-range of less than 5 meters.

Dr. Anish Goyal, Block's VP of Technology and Principal Investigator of the effort commented, "We are very pleased to receive the third Phase award of the SILMARILS Program based on successful achievements in the prior program phases which included testing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the Indy 500. The ability to detect most chemicals, including CWAs, Explosives, and Pharmaceutical Based Agents at these standoff distances is addressing a strong need within the Intelligence Community, the Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security."

Mr. Al Weggeman, Block's President, added, "This is a great opportunity to partner with IARPA and AFRL in the creation of much needed technologies that address stand-off chemical and gas detection capabilities and CONOPs. We are resolved to provide protective capabilities to first responders, military, and the public in general."

GSK licenses tuberculosis vaccine candidate to the Bill & Melinda Gates Medical Research Institute for continued development

  • The M72/AS01E tuberculosis vaccine candidate demonstrated in a phase IIb trial the potential to reduce active pulmonary TB by half in adults with latent TB infection.
  • Developing a new vaccine against TB is a global health priority to accelerate progress toward ending the TB epidemic and one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
  • The licensing agreement is a significant step forward to continue the development of the vaccine candidate for low-income countries with high TB burdens.

Today, GSK announced that it has licensed its M72/AS01E tuberculosis disease (TB) vaccine candidate to the Gates MRI, paving the way for continued development and potential use of the vaccine candidate in low-income countries with high TB burdens.

Dr. Thomas Breuer, Chief Medical Officer of GSK Vaccines, commented: “At GSK, we are very proud to have developed a TB vaccine candidate which has shown promising clinical trial results in adolescents and adults where the need to combat the TB epidemic is greatest.  We are delighted to announce this ambitious collaboration to enable key partners to further build on and progress our scientific innovation.”

There is no approved vaccine capable of preventing pulmonary TB disease in adolescents and adults, who accounted for 89% of people who fell ill with TB in 2018.   The live attenuated vaccine, Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG), has been in use for nearly a century, and while it is effective in preventing severe TB disease in infants and young children, it provides limited protection against pulmonary TB in adolescents and adults.

TB is the world’s deadliest infectious disease, with 10 million new cases and 1.5 million deaths in 2018 alone.  The burden of disease is concentrated with over 97% of reported TB cases occurring in low- and middle-income countries.

Recently published final results of a phase IIb trial in South Africa, Kenya and Zambia conducted in partnership with IAVI showed that M72/AS01E had an acceptable safety profile and reduced cases of TB in HIV-negative adults with latent TB infections by half. The Gates MRI will lead vaccine candidate development and sponsor future clinical trials. GSK will provide the AS01 adjuvant for this development programme.

Philip Thomson, President, Global Affairs at GSK, said: “Today’s new agreement signals a new and exciting phase in our efforts to improve global public health through medical innovation.  For us, this type of alliance means we can take a more sustainable approach to global health, focussing our efforts and expertise on science and research, while partnering with others to ensure their development and delivery.

About the vaccine candidate

The M72/AS01E vaccine candidate contains the M72 recombinant fusion protein, derived from two Mycobacterium tuberculosis antigens (Mtb32A and Mtb39A), combined with the Adjuvant System AS01. The vaccine candidate has been developed by GSK in conjunction with IAVI. Funding for research which uncovered the potential of M72 was provided by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), the Directorate-General for International Cooperation (DGIS) in the Netherlands, the Australian Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), the European Commission and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

 

 

CEPI grants $9M to Inovio to develop coronavirus vaccine

Inovio Pharmaceuticals, USA has announced the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) has awarded Inovio a grant of up to $9 million to develop a vaccine against the recently emerged strain of coronavirus (2019-nCoV). This initial CEPI funding will support Inovio's preclinical and clinical development through Phase 1 human testing of INO-4800, its new coronavirus vaccine matched to the outbreak strain. CEPI previously awarded Inovio a grant of up to $56 million for the development of vaccines against Lassa fever and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), also caused by a coronavirus.

Inovio's participation in this developing effort is based on the ideal suitability of its DNA medicine platform to rapidly develop a vaccine against an emerging virus with pandemic potential, proven vaccine development capabilities and a strong track record of rapidly generating promising countermeasures against previous pandemic threats. Inovio was the first to advance its vaccine (INO-4700) against MERS-CoV, a related coronavirus, into evaluation in humans. Inovio is currently preparing to initiate a Phase 2 vaccine trial for INO-4700 in the Middle East where most MERS viral outbreaks have occurred.

In a recently published paper in Lancet Infectious Diseases, Inovio's Phase 1 study of its MERS-CoV vaccine demonstrated it was well tolerated and furthermore induced high levels of antibody responses in roughly 95% of subjects, while also generating broad-based T cell responses in nearly 90% of study participants. Durable antibody responses to INO-4700 were also maintained through 60 weeks following dosing.

Richard Hatchett, CEPI's CEO, said, "Given the rapid global spread of the 2019-nCoV virus the world needs to act quickly and in unity to tackle this disease. Our intention with this work is to leverage our work with Inovio on the MERS coronavirus and rapid response platform to speed up vaccine development."

Dr. J. Joseph Kim, Inovio's President & CEO said, "We're extremely honored to expand our partnership with CEPI to tackle this new threat to global public health. Our DNA medicine platform represents the best modern day approach to combatting emerging pandemics. We have already demonstrated positive clinical outcomes with our vaccine against MERS-CoV, another coronavirus. Importantly, following the Zika viral infection outbreak, Inovio and our partners developed a vaccine that went from bench to human testing in just seven months – the fastest vaccine development on record in recent decades. We believe we can further improve upon this accelerated timeline to meet the current challenge of the emerging coronavirus 2019-nCoV."

Inovio's collaborators in this coronavirus vaccine development include the Wistar Institute, VGXI, a fully owned subsidiary of GeneOne Life Science and Twist Bioscience.

Elmon Release CBRN Suit

Elmon  is a leading manufacture of Ballistic (bulletproof) protection. For the last five years Elmon have been working on developing and adding CBRN suits to be included with its products, and are proud about the launching their very own CBRN protection suite with respirator, boots  and gloves, manufactured in Athens, Greece.

The suit is compliant to NATO, EN, ISO and Finabel standards and Elmon is now supplying CBRN suits in over 30 different countries. 

A press release from Elmon states "Our suit offers improved protection against Mustard and soman agents. Its design is Breathable. Causing less air resistance. Lined with HIGH quality encapsulated active carbon. Also, the CBRN suit is Washable and has a Storage life of 20 years.Our amazing team of R&D has also designed the CBRN suite so that it can be Effective and user friendly in warm climates and ensuring that the end user has Protection against all type of contaminants, (vapour, liquid, aerosol, drops, solids). The ultra-lightweight designed suite also gives the end user Unassisted donning on and doffing capabilities again making it easier for them to carry out their duties. The design is Durable and able to withstand rigorous activities with Taped seams, elastic wrist and ankles. And as we are the manufacture, we have the capability to design the suit in any pattern or colour so whether you are Military in camouflage or a police officer or CTU unit in Black or blue. The fabric is easy to decontaminate is also hot gas tolerant Flame, heat, oil and fungus resistant."

Doomsday Clock 2020

Doomsday Clock Now Closer to Midnight Than Ever in Its History; Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Cite Worsening Nuclear Threat, Lack of Climate Action & Rise of “Cyber-Enabled Disinformation Campaigns” in Moving Clock Hand; Bulletin Joined by The Elders in Announcement Today.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – January 23, 2020 – The iconic Doomsday Clock symbolizing the gravest perils facing humankind is now closer to midnight than at any point since its creation in 1947. To underscore the need for action, the time on the Doomsday Clock is now being expressed in seconds, rather than minutes: Today, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board in consultation with the Bulletin’s Board of Sponsors, which includes 13 Nobel Laureates, moved the Doomsday Clock from two minutes to midnight to 100 seconds to midnight.

As the statement issued today by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists explains: “Humanity continues to face two simultaneous existential dangers—nuclear war and climate change—that are compounded by a threat multiplier, cyber-enabled information warfare, that undercuts society’s ability to respond. The international security situation is dire, not just because these threats exist, but because world leaders have allowed the international political infrastructure for managing them to erode.”

The Doomsday Clock has now moved closer to midnight in three of the last four years. While the Doomsday Clock did not move in 2019, its minute hand was set forward in 2018 by 30 seconds, to two minutes before midnight. The Clock was adjusted in 2017 to two and a half minutes to midnight from its previous setting of three minutes to midnight.

Rachel Bronson, president and CEO, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, said: “It is 100 seconds to midnight. We are now expressing how close the world is to catastrophe in seconds – not hours, or even minutes. It is the closest to Doomsday we have ever been in the history of the Doomsday Clock. We now face a true emergency – an absolutely unacceptable state of world affairs that has eliminated any margin for error or further delay.

Former California Governor Jerry Brown, executive chair, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, said: “Dangerous rivalry and hostility among the superpowers increases the likelihood of nuclear blunder. Climate change just compounds the crisis. If there’s ever a time to wake up, it’s now.

For the first time, experts from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists were joined in making the Doomsday Clock change by members of The Elders. Founded by Nelson Mandela in 2007, The Elders are independent global leaders working together for peace and human rights.

Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, deputy chair, The Elders; and former South Korean Foreign Minister, said: “We share a common concern over the failure of the multilateral system to address the existential threats we face. From the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and the Iran Nuclear Deal, to deadlock at nuclear disarmament talks and division at the UN Security Council – our mechanisms for collaboration are being undermined when we need them most.

Former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, chair, The Elders, and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said: “We ask world leaders to join us in 2020 as we work to pull humanity back from the brink. The Doomsday Clock now stands at 100 seconds to midnight, the most dangerous situation that humanity has ever faced. Now is the time to come together – to unite and to act.

The Doomsday Clock statement highlights three worsening factors:

  • Nuclear weapons.“In the nuclear realm, national leaders have ended or undermined several major arms control treaties and negotiations during the last year, creating an environment conducive to a renewed nuclear arms race, to the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and to lowered barriers to nuclear war. Political conflicts regarding nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea remain unresolved and are, if anything, worsening. US-Russia cooperation on arms control and disarmament is all but nonexistent.”
  • Climate change.“Public awareness of the climate crisis grew over the course of 2019, largely because of mass protests by young people around the world. Just the same, governmental action on climate change still falls far short of meeting the challenge at hand. At UN climate meetings last year, national delegates made fine speeches but put forward few concrete plans to further limit the carbon dioxide emissions that are disrupting Earth’s climate. This limited political response came during a year when the effects of manmade climate change were manifested by one of the warmest years on record, extensive wildfires, and quicker-than-expected melting of glacial ice.”
  • Cyber-based disinformation.“Continued corruption of the information ecosphere on which democracy and public decision making depend has heightened the nuclear and climate threats. In the last year, many governments used cyber-enabled disinformation campaigns to sow distrust in institutions and among nations, undermining domestic and international efforts to foster peace and protect the planet.”

At the same time, the Doomsday Clock statement also identifies possible action steps to turn back the hands of the Clock.

  • US and Russian leaders can return to the negotiating table to: reinstate the INF Treaty or take other action to restrain an unnecessary arms race in medium-range missiles; extend the limits of New START beyond 2021; seek further reductions in nuclear arms; discuss a lowering of the alert status of the nuclear arsenals of both countries; limit nuclear modernization programs that threaten to create a new nuclear arms race; and start talks on cyber warfare, missile defenses, the militarization of space, hypersonic technology, and the elimination of battlefield nuclear weapons.
  • The countries of the world should publicly rededicate themselves to the temperature goal of the Paris climate agreement, which is restricting warming “well below” 2 degrees Celsius higher than the preindustrial level. That goal is consistent with consensus views on climate science, and, notwithstanding the inadequate climate action to date, it may well remain within reach if major changes in the worldwide energy system and land use are undertaken promptly. If that goal is to be attained, industrialized countries will need to curb emissions rapidly, going beyond their initial, inadequate pledges and supporting developing countries so they can leapfrog the entrenched, fossil fuel-intensive patterns previously pursued by industrialized countries.
  • The United States and other signatories of the Iran nuclear deal can work together to restrain nuclear proliferation in the Middle East. Iran is poised to violate key thresholds of the deal.
  • The international community should begin multilateral discussions aimed at establishing norms of behavior, both domestic and international, that discourage and penalize the misuse of science. Science provides the world’s searchlight in times of fog and confusion. Furthermore, focused attention is needed to prevent information technology from undermining public trust in political institutions, in the media, and in the existence of objective reality itself. Cyber-enabled information warfare is a threat to the common good. Deception campaigns—and leaders intent on blurring the line between fact and politically motivated fantasy—are a profound threat to effective democracies, reducing their ability to address nuclear weapons, climate change, and other existential dangers.

December 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the first edition of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, initially a six-page, black-and-white bulletin and later a magazine, created in anticipation that the atom bomb would be “only the first of many dangerous presents from the Pandora’s Box of modern science.”

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