Kansas lands a plum
Manhattan, Kan. — The $563 million National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NABF) could pump some $3.5 billion into Kansas, and, while the money is an incentive, Kansas State University (KSU) officials lobbied the government for a more global purpose.
"The capacity to bring the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), USDA researchers and academics together and being part of the KC Animal Health Corridor is just a tremendous crossroads of the One Health, One Medicine Initiative for our county and our world," says Dr. Ralph Richardson, dean of the KSU College of Veterinary Medicine. "It's one of the biggest things that could have happened for the university, the state and the country."
The Manhattan site was named the preferred alternative over four other locations last month.The NABF will be a modern, high-security facility to study foreign-animal and zoonotic diseases.
The new laboratory will replace the government's aging research facility at Plum Island, N.Y., four miles off eastern Long Island, where studies on anthrax, foot-and-mouth disease and other threats have been conducted for more than 50 years. The existing facility is too small to meet the nation's research needs, and it does not have BSL-4 capabilities.
Manhattan was selected over locations in Athens, Ga.; Flora, Miss.; Butner, N.C. and San Antonio, Texas.
The steering committee heading the search, comprised of DHS and USDA employees, unanimously chose Manhattan, after considering threat and risk assessment, cost analysis, site characterization and Plum Island Facility closure and transition costs.
DHS requested that each consortium submit an offer, for offsets to the site infrastructure costs. Kansas pledged more than $100 million.
The committee praised the following attributes of the Manhattan site:
Dr. Ron Trewyn, vice president for research at KSU, says efforts to land the facility started three years ago.
"Because it is such a big project, we had to assemble a consortium — Heartland Bio Agro Consortium (HBAC) — to submit," he says. "We wanted to show we had all the breadth of expertise we needed to support such an operation."
HBAC is a combination of research universities and institutes and hospitals, subject-matter experts and firms in the bioscience industry.
Multiple state entities also joined the effort, including Kansas Bioscience Authority. The KBA took on NBAF as its No. 1 priority, according to Trewyn.
Not only did Kansas leaders pledge more than $100 million, they also offered immediate use of the Biosecurity Research Institute (BRI), a $54 million BSL-3 research/education facility.
"We already have a commitment to bio-security and food safety and a strong commitment to the community in which the veterinary college is integral," Richardson says. "That broad-based support throughout the community and the close proximity of the Kansas City Health Corridor only helped our efforts."
Lynn Parman, vice president of business development, life science and technology for the Kansas City Area Development, says NBAF research will transfer to vaccine development, and where better for that to take place than the Kansas City Health Corridor, where there are 17 vaccine production facilities within 180 miles?
"I don't think we can fully appreciate all the benefits yet. We will have 300-400 highly paid jobs, most of them researchers, coming here. Because of the concentration of science, we will be a magnet, in my opinion, for highly skilled researchers. I also think there will be a snowball effect. It is very exciting," says Joerg Ohle, president and general manager of Bayer Animal Health, North America.
While disappointed the University of Georgia did not receive the nod, Dr. Sheila Allen, dean of the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, and Dr. Harry Dickerson, associate dean for research and graduate affairs, say locating the NBAF in Kansas strengthens the veterinary community.
"Of all of the options, if it weren't going to be in Athens (Ga.), we feel Kansas is the best alternative so that veterinary medicine will continue to have a strong position in animal infectious-disease research," Allen says.