Texas A&M System Bidding for Biosecurity Center

The Texas A&M University System announced a bid today to become one of the nation’s key centers for defense against infectious diseases and other biological threats.

The A&M System has assembled a team of more than 20 companies, universities and medical research centers from around the globe that together hope to form a new National Center for Innovation in Advanced Development and Manufacturing. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a request for proposals for such centers, which could receive upwards of $1.2 billion, in March.

In August, in the wake of a frustratingly slow response to the nation’s swine flu pandemic, HHS released a report calling for “the nimble, flexible capacity” to produce medical countermeasures like vaccines “in the face of any attack or threat, known or unknown.”

Under the leadership of Dr. Brett Giroir, the system’s vice chancellor for research, A&M has been deliberately attempting to position itself as a leader in pharmaceutical manufacturing with the capability to rapidly develop and produce large amounts of a vaccine. Along the way, some of his efforts have met with resistance and suspicion from members of the A&M community and others. Though, Giroir asserts that they’ve been leading to this point.

“We’re now up at the plate to take a swing,” Giroir told the Tribune. “The only reason we’re in the game right now is because of the investments that have been made and all the things that have gone on the last few years.”

Because this sort of effort is new for Texas, Giroir says the A&M team should be considered underdogs going into this bid. “There are going to be many, many competitive teams from many other states,” he said, noting that North Carolina and New Jersey, in particular, have much longer histories with pharmaceutical manufacturing.

Still, the A&M System team includes some heavyweights, such as European pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals, The Sabin Vaccine Institute of Washington, D.C., and Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine. “If you had to bet on a team for the country, this is the one I’d bet on,” said Giroir.

This news comes as the cities of Bryan and College Station are ironing out the final details of a plan to dedicate thousands of acres to a biomedical corridor in the area. That effort to develop a biomedical hub will continue whether it ends up housing one of these national centers or not — but Giroir says succeeding in this bid would be “an enormous accelerator.”

“This transforms it from a gradual process to one that occurs in a blink of an eye,” he said.

While A&M hasn’t conducted any economic impact studies, one of their competitors in this effort, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, predicts such a center could directly create approximately 1,000 jobs, along with another 6,000 indirectly.

Proposals for the new center are due June 29. No specific date has been given for when the federal government would make their selection, but Giroir says they’ve indicated it would happen by the end of the calendar year.

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