Excitement Grows for Facility That Increases Bio- and Agro-Defense

National Bio- and Agro Defense Facility
( NBAF )

After years of planning, funding requests, and resources, the facility that will serve as the primary defense against accidental or intentional introduction of transboundary animal diseases is being built in Manhattan, Kan. The Plum Island Animal Disease Center of New York had protected America’s livestock from animal disease since 1954, but after the National Bio- and Agro-defense facility (NBAF) opens in 2023, the antiquated Plum Island buildings will be closed.

Although NBAF’s opening is still several years away, the state-of-the-art facility will serve agriculture well, said speakers at the U.S. Animal Health Association annual meeting last week. While Plum Island is located near the northeast coast of Long Island in New York, the new, $1.25 billion facility is in the heart of livestock production and agri-business. Like Plum Island, NBAF will provide a host of high-impact, indispensable preparedness and response capabilities, including vaccine R&D, diagnostics, training, and bio-forensics, among others.

“The facility is a biosafety level-4 laboratory and is expected to be operational by 2022-2023,” Dr. Marty Vanier told USAHA members. She is Director of Partnership Development, NBAF Program Executive Office at Homeland Security, Science and Technology (DHS).

After a three-year site selection process, Manhattan, Kansas, was chosen as the location for NBAF, she said. The facility is under construction on Kansas State University's Manhattan campus and is adjacent to the university's Biosecurity Research Institute. This strategic location places NBAF near important veterinary, agricultural and biosecurity research and expertise.

She said $852 million of the $1.25 billion budget has been spent to date on planning, risk assessments, design and construction. 

“The mission is greatly expanded from what we have at Plum Island,” Vanier said. “The new facility has three categories: agro-terrorism, foreign animal diseases (unintentional), and emerging animal disease and zoonosis.

Unique Arrangement
The project is a unique collaborative effort. Forty-eight acres were gifted from the state of Kansas to the Department of Homeland Security, and the City of Manhattan also contributed to the effort to host the facility. DHS will maintain responsibility for construction and commissioning of the building.

“Construction is expected to be completed by Dec. 2020, and in May of 2021, NBAF will transfer from DHS to USDA,” said Dr. Beth Lautner, who also spoke at the USAHA meeting. She is Director of USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories.

The President’s budget proposes the transfer of responsibility from DHS to USDA, stating: “…given that USDA is already responsible for the research programs that would be at this facility once construction is completed, it makes sense for USDA to manage the facility itself.”

“Coming Home”
Lautner and Vanier feel having USDA operate NBAF is “coming home,” since USDA operated the Plum Island Center for nearly 50 years. 

These “Enduring Commitments” for NBAF set the plate for the future:
•        Fulfill the vision of NBAF as the premier center of scientific excellence in research, countermeasure development, diagnostics and training for foreign, emerging and zoonotic diseases of livestock
•        Leverage fully the first large animal BSL-4 facility in the U.S.
•        Maximize the use of public/private partnerships
•        Maintain a collaborative relationship between USDA and DHS
•        Enhance partnerships with academia stakeholders, other Federal laboratories, and the private sector to carry NBAF’s reach beyond its walls
•        Inspire scientific innovation and creativity which will lead to critical breakthroughs for disease detection, prevention and response

A thorough transition plan is in place with no detail left out. Transition working groups will tackle more than 20 essential planning areas; contingency planning for different scenarios will be based on the timing of Congressional approval and appropriations; and the development of a Memorandum of Agreement outlines agency responsibilities that speak to the transition planning.

“NBAF will be a cornerstone,” Lautner said. “The new facility is on time and on budget, and the plan is to be moved off Plum Island by 2023.”