CounterACT Program

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Countermeasures Against Chemical Threats (CounterACT)

A Trans-NIH Initiative in Translation Research

The increased risk of a terrorist attack in the United States involving chemical agents has created new challenges for many departments and agencies across the federal government. Within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the NIH is taking a leadership role in pursuing the development of new and improved medical countermeasures designed to prevent, diagnose, and/or treat the conditions caused by potential and existing chemical threat agents. Many of these same chemicals not only pose as a terrorist threat agent, they may also be released from transportation and storage facilities during industrial accidents or natural disasters. The overarching goal of the CounterACT program is to integrate cutting-edge research with the latest technological advances in science and medicine for a more rapid and effective response during these chemical emergencies.

The CounterACT program is a translational research program supporting basic, translational, and clinical research aimed at the discovery or identification of better therapeutic medical countermeasures and/or diagnostic technologies against chemical threat agents, and facilitates their movement through the drug development and regulatory processes in collaboration with other federal departments, agencies, and initiatives, such as the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (HHS BARDA) and the FDA Medical Countermeasures Initiative (MCMi). CounterACT is part of the HHS Public Health Emergency Medical Countermeasures Enterprise (PHEMCE), which coordinates MCM-related efforts across HHS and USG interagency partners.This NIH-led program includes a comprehensive network of Research Centers of Excellence, individual co-operative research projects, small business innovation research grants, contracts, and interagency agreements with the Department of Defense. 

The CounterACT program is funded by a special Congressional supplement to the NIH budget through the Office of the Director (NIH OD) under the oversight of the Office of Biodefense Research at the NIAID. This is a trans-NIH effort, involving partnerships with the NEINIAIDNIAMSNICHDNIEHSNLMNHLBI, and NINDS to execute the overall NIH Medical Research Program Directed Against Chemical Threats.

Examples of Threat Agents  

  • Cholinergics and convulsant agents that cause seizures and neuropathology such as sarin, parathion, aldicarb, and tetramine (TETS)
  • Cellular respiration inhibitors and other agents that target the blood such as sodium fluoroacetate, aniline, arsenic trioxide, hydrogen sulfide, and brodifacoum
  • Agents that target the lower and/or upper pulmonary/respiratory tract and may cause pulmonary edema such as oleum, sulfur trioxide, phosgene, and phosphine
  • Vesicating agents that cause skin and/or ocular pathologies such as Lewisite, phosgene oxime, and sulfur mustard

Categories of research supported under this program include, but are not limited to:

  • Mechanistic research strictly to identify translatable targets for therapeutic development and/or intervention, e.g., research on the molecular mechanisms of toxicity for the purpose of identifying novel biomarkers and/or ‘druggable’ targets
  • Creation of animal models with response predictive for humans to evaluate lethality and serious near- and long-term sublethal morbidities caused by chemical threats after an acute insult that can be extrapolated to various subpopulation groups (e.g., pediatric, pregnant), i.e., natural history of the condition, time course of progression, and manifestation of the injuries to identify the trigger for intervention. The intended use of the model must be to validate the development of therapeutics.
  • Detailed understanding of the pathophysiological mechanism of toxicity of the threat chemical based on dose, quantification of exposure, individual variability in susceptibility and response.
  • Development of preliminary in vivo proof-of-principle data on the efficacy of candidate therapeutics, e.g., defining the exact mechanism of action of the lead candidate therapy to prevent or substantially reduces the toxic effects of the chemical threat and relate this from the animal model to humans. This may include assessing in vitro activities (e.g., affinity, specificity, activity in cells, cellular uptake)

Special consideration will be given to research relevant to people who are particularly vulnerable, including pregnant women, infants, the young, the elderly, and individuals with pre-existing medical conditions. Animal models and studies that address these vulnerabilities as well as long term effects after an acute exposure event are of interest. An animal model is defined as a specific combination of an animal species, challenge agent, and route of exposure that produces a disease process or pathological condition that in multiple important aspects corresponds to the human disease or condition of interest.

Primary contacts for questions concerning the overall CounterACT Program

David A. Jett, Ph.D.
Director, CounterACT
National Institutes of Health, NINDS

D. Yeung, Ph.D.
Project Manager, CounterACT
National Institutes of Health, NINDS

Gennady E. Platoff Jr., Ph.D.
Biodefense Research Countermeasures
Office of Biodefense Research & Surety
National Institutes of Health, NIAID

Shardell M. Spriggs, Ph.D.
Health Program Specialist, CounterACT
National Institutes of Health, NINDS

Renee Waltzer [C]
Operations Coordinator, CounterACT
National Institutes of Health, NINDS

Contacts for questions regarding specific areas of research interest

Houmam Araj, Ph.D.
Program Director, Vision Research Program
National Institutes of Health, NEI

Pertti (Bert) J. Hakkinen, Ph.D.
Acting Head, Office of Clinical Toxicology, and  
Senior Toxicologist, and Toxicology and Environmental 
Health Science Advisor (to the Director) Specialized Information Services
National Institutes of Health, NLM

Andrea L. Harabin, Ph.D.
Program Director, Acute Lung Injury and Critical Care
National Institutes of Health, NHLBI

Elizabeth Maull, Ph.D.
Toxicologist, Biomolecular Screening Branch
National Institutes of Health, NIEHS, NTP

Srikanth S. Nadadur, Ph.D.
Health Scientist Administrator, Cardiovascular Health
National Institutes of Health, NIEHS

David Siegel, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Medical Officer, Obstetric & Pediatric Pharmacology Branch
National Institutes of Health, NICHD

Randall Stewart, Ph.D.
Program Director, Channels, Synapses, and Circuits
National Institutes of Health, NINDS

Hung Tseng, Ph.D.
Health Scientist Administrator, Div. of Skin and Rheumatic Diseases
National Institutes of Health, NIAMS

Tools & Resources

Core Resources

CounterACT Application Examples (U01 and U54): Milestones

CounterACT Efficacy Research Facility (CERF)

  •  Focus: Pilot and advanced studies on the efficacy of candidate compounds

CounterACT Preclinical Development Facility (CPDF)

  •  Focus: Pilot and advanced safety, chemistry and pharmacokinetic/dynamic (PK/PD) preclinical studies

CounterACT Neurotherapeutics Screening (CNS) Program

  •  Focus: Generate important proof-of-concept efficacy data in support of a research application

NIH Molecular Libraries Program: Pathways to Discovery

  • Focus: Enhance chemical biology efforts through High Throughput Screening (HTS) to obtain small molecule probes effective at modulating a given biological process or disease state

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