Texas A&M University has won a huge federal contract to become one of the nation’s major hubs of vaccine production and bioterror preparedness.
Over an expected lifetime of 25 years the federal contract to create a Center for Innovation in Advanced Development and Manufacturing is likely worth $1.5 to $2 billion.
“It’s the biggest federal grant to come to Texas since NASA, quite frankly,” Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp said.
The contract, announced today by U.S. Department of Health and Human Service Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, is remarkable for several reasons:
- Politics: In an election year a university whose most famous graduate is Rick Perry, and which is the most conservative university in one of the reddest states, landed a major federal boon from a Democratic President.
- Economics: During the next few years of construction the center will create about 1,000 jobs in the Bryan-College Station area. After the facilities are up and running many more well-paying jobs will come. There is also considerable promise for pharmaceutical companies to relocate to the Brazos Valley.
- Engineering: Texas A&M has traditionally been known as an engineering and agricultural school. It has now successfully moved into the 21st century, an age of biology. With today’s announcement the university now becomes a major hub of bioengineering.
WHAT WILL IT DO?
So what will the center, one of three created today by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services do? There are four primary functions:
1. Provide a national response to a pandemic influenza outbreak: The centers are each tasked with providing 50 million doses to the government within four months of the identification of a strain. This would be about twice as fast as the vaccine making process during the 2009 outbreak of H1N1. The first doses must be available within 12 weeks. “Once it’s implemented, it really will solve the pandemic crisis,” said Dr. Brett Giroir, principle investigator of Texas A&M’s center.
2. Build the national countermeasure stockpile: The centers are tasked with developing advanced manufacturing techniques for all vaccine and medical countermeasures for chemical and biological threats, such as anthrax, antibody therapies, and treatments for radiation poisoning. The goal would be to speed up response to these kinds of incidents as well as pandemic influenza.
3. Accelerate the development of countermeasures: Bring together the expertise needed to expedite the movement of medical countermeasures to natural (i.e. Ebola virus) and manmade biological and chemical threats out of the lab and into the stockpile. This includes clinical trials. The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston and Baylor College of Medicine are important partners in this endeavor.
4. Workforce training: The centers must guarantee a capable U.S. workforce in this area because much of the industry is going offshore to China and other countries. “We can’t let the expertise fail in the United States,” Giroir said.