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.