Building a large-animal bio-containment laboratory to protect animal and public health is “imperative,” according to a report released Friday by the National Research Council, which has been studying options for a National Bio and Agro Defense Facility (NBAF).
The report concluded that the NBAF, as designed, “includes all components of the ideal laboratory infrastructure in a single location and has been designed to meet the current and anticipated future mission needs of DHS and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.”
Drawbacks are cost, estimated at $1.14 billion, and a concern that a stand-alone lab does not effectively leverage existing capacity at other containment lab in the U.S.
The Department of Homeland Security asked the council to explore three options: building the NBAF in Manhattan as already designed and approved; building a scaled-back version tied to a distributed laboratory network, or keeping and revamping the current Plum Island Animal Disease Center located off Long Island, N.Y.
Regarding the second option, the report found that a partnership between a central national laboratory of reduced scope and size and a distributed laboratory network can effectively protect the United States from foreign animal and zoonotic diseases, potentially realize cost savings, reduce redundancies while increasing efficiencies, and enhance the cohesiveness of a national system of biocontainment laboratories. However, the cost implications of reducing the scope and capacity of a central facility are not known.
In its assessment of the third option, the report says that maintaining the Plum Island Animal Disease Center and leveraging foreign laboratories for large animal Biosafety Level 4 needs would avoid the costs of constructing a new replacement facility. However, the facilities at Plum Island do not meet current standards for high bio-containment. Given the uncertainty over priorities of a foreign laboratory and logistical difficulties in an emergency, it would not be desirable for the United States to rely on international laboratories to meet these needs in the long term.
The report adds that because foot-and-mouth disease research remains critical for the U.S. animal health system, it will be essential to maintain the Plum Island facility until an alternative facility is authorized, constructed, commissioned, and approved for work with the virus.
Regardless of the options considered for a central facility, the report recommends that DHS and USDA develop and implement an integrated national strategy that utilizes a distributed system for addressing foreign animal and zoonotic disease threats. The capital costs associated with maintaining or constructing modern laboratory facilities should be balanced with the need to support research priorities.
The study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies. They are independent, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under an 1863 congressional charter. Panel members, who serve pro bono as volunteers, are chosen by the Academies for each study based on their expertise and experience and must satisfy the Academies' conflict-of-interest standards. The resulting consensus reports undergo external peer review before completion. For more information, visit http://national-academies.org/studycommitteprocess.pdf.
Both of Kansas’s senators and Gov. Sam Brownback immediately jumped on the evidence in the report to push DHS to move ahead with land transfer and let construction begin.
“The NAS findings are crystal clear: without the capabilities NBAF provides, our country is at risk from foreign animal disease threats. The NAS fittingly recognizes that the need for a centralized laboratory focused on research, diagnostics and surveillance is imperative. That laboratory should be NBAF – and it starts with construction of the central utility plant. We are pleased this promising review concludes any outstanding evaluations of NBAF. Because the NAS study shows that the need for a facility like NBAF has increased over time, we call on DHS to move forward with the land transfer and for construction to begin immediately,” read a joint statement from the senators and the governor.
The NBAF as approved, would be built adjacent to Kansas State University and the Level-3 biosecurity National Bio Research Institute in Manhattan.
Click here to learn more about NBAF.
Click here to read a copy of NAS’ report.