Boston, Texas universities get OK for biocontainment labs

By Mark DeSorbo

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Boston University Medical Center and the University of Texas Medical Branch have been chosen by The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to build biocontainment centers, housing dozens of laboratories to study new vaccines and develop drugs to treat anthrax and Ebola, among others.

The National Centers for Emerging Infectious Diseases will create thousands of jobs and is a key part of the Bush Administration's crusade to solidify defenses against bioterrorism.

According to NIAID, the biodefense centers have two goals:

  • To construct a safe and secure facility that incorporates all of the components necessary to support cutting-edge basic, translational and clinical research on emerging infectious diseases and agents of bioterrorism; and,
  • To put into place comprehensive research, development and training programs that emphasize research and the development of diagnostic, preventive and therapeutic products to protect the population of the United States and the world against emerging infectious diseases and agents of bioterrorism.

Boston University will receive a $120 million federal grant for construction of a 225,000-square-foot facility in the city's South End neighborhood.

About 13 percent of the Beantown facility will be involved with deadly substances. The rest of the Level 4 facility will be dedicated for research and safety systems, says Mark Klempner, Boston University's provost, who chaired the federal application team.

The project will also make a significant economic contribution in Boston and to the community. In total, following construction of the facility and one year of operation, it is estimated to have a $272 million economic benefit and create 1,960 direct jobs, says Boston Mayor Tom Menino.

“This new facility will create more than 1,300 construction jobs and over 600 permanent jobs for workers of every skill level,” Menino says. “The economic ripple effect will be tremendous. The lab will act as a magnet drawing top-notch scientists and pharmaceutical companies to our city and reinforce Boston's role as the nation's center for biomedical research.”

Una S. Ryan, vice chair of the board for the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council (Cambridge, Mass.), agrees. “The construction of this facility opens up terrific opportunities for local biotech companies and in turn, the local economy,” says Ryan, who is also chief executive officer of Avant Immunotherapeutics.

“We have been discussing our ideas and recommendations with project organizers and hope to continue the dialogue,” Ryan adds.

The University of Texas will receive $110 million for a 170,000 square-foot lab that will be built in Galveston. The university is also allocating $57 million to the lab, which will let researchers study organisms like those that cause bubonic plague.

It also will bring 200 new jobs and an influx of about $15 million to Galveston's economy. “The facility will be a great addition to the campus,” Stanley Lemon, dean of medicine at the university told The Associated Press. “It will make the university an epicenter of research in infectious diseases.”

Regional biocontainment centers were also approved at: Colorado State, Duke, Tulane, Alabama-Birmingham, Chicago, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Missouri, Pittsburgh, and Tennessee-Memphis.


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