From Steven King's The Stand to the Hollywood blockbuster Contagion, the fear of a calamitous pandemic is never far from the popular imagination. Fortunately, it's on the minds of employees of the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) as well.
On June 18, HHS announced the commission of three state-of-the-art biodefense centers across the country. Texas A&M University, host of a nationally-ranked Biological & Agricultural Engineering program, will be building the largest of the three facilities at a cost of $176 million over five years. Additional facilities will be built by Emergent Manufacturing Operations Baltimore LLC and Novartis for $163 million and $60 million, respectively.
The three facilities, totaling a $400 million, offer a substantial investment in the nation's national biodefense, said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in a press statement:
"Establishing these centers represents a dramatic step forward in ensuring that the United States can produce life-saving countermeasures quickly and nimbly. 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."
Rather than the only line of defense against infectious disease (the U.S. spent $1.348 billion on biodefense and infectious disease in 2012 alone), the three centers will help employ the ingenuity of public-private partnerships in the biological sciences in the service of national security.