Texas A&M receives federal grant to build biosecurity center

Desiree Lopez

The federal government announced Monday that the Texas A&M University System will house one of three new national biosecurity centers dedicated to fighting bioterrorism. The new Texas A&M Center for Innovation in Advanced Development and Manufacturing will be housed at the system’s Bryan-College Station campus.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced in Washington the $400 million award for centers, of which $285 million will go to the Texas A&M center. $176 million of the award will come in the form of grants over five years. The remaining funds will go to centers in North Carolina and Maryland. John Sharp, Texas A&M University System Chancellor, received the news via live video conference in Austin and attributed the award largely to Governor Rick Perry and his vision to establish Texas as a center for biopharmaceuticals.

The new center will develop and manufacture vaccines and medicines to combat against emerging infectious diseases, pandemic influenza and chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats, according to the center’s website. Upon completion in December 2015, the new biosecurity center is expected to create roughly 1,000 jobs.

“Over the past decade the state of Texas has methodically cultivated and grown the biopharma and technology industries in Texas, and the fruits of those labors are being born today,” Sharp said in a statement Monday. “Texas would not have been competitive for a national center if not for the investments by the Emerging Technology Fund, the Texas Enterprise Fund and other related programs such as the Cancer prevention Institute of Texas.”

In March 2011, HHS requested proposals for national biosecurity centers and Texas A&M announced their bid in May 2011.

In a statement on their website, HHS said these biosecurity centers are on the forefront of medical countermeasures, and will be the first major domestic centers in the U.S. capable of creating medication to use during possible pandemics. Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, said in a statement Monday that establishing the centers is a dramatic step toward life-saving measures.

“They will improve our ability to protect Americans’ health in an emergency and help fill gaps in preparedness so that our nation can respond to known or unknown threats,” she said in the statement.

According to the HHS, this initiative is a result of the 2009 swine flu pandemic, in which medication was not available for about 12 weeks because there was only one location distributing medication.

In addition, the state of Texas is expected to pledge $40 million toward the center, $15 million of which will come from the Texas’ Emerging Technology Fund. Texas A&M will add $20 million and commercial pharmaceutical companies will secure $50 million.

In addition to outside funding, the A&M system has partnered with commercial and non-profit institutions as well as world-class academic centers to contribute their technology and skills to the biosecurity center. Among the team are GlaxoSmithKline Vaccines, the School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.