he Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is asking Congress for money for a new building to house the laboratories that work on the deadliest pathogens known to humankind. The existing building, which went into service in 2005, will need to be replaced by 2023 or so to avoid major disruptions in the work, senior agency staff told STAT.
“The concerns are that the facility we’ve been in now is beginning to show signs of age,” said Dr. Inger Damon, head of the division of high consequence pathogens and pathology. That division works on viruses like smallpox and Ebola, which can only be studied in laboratories of the highest biosafety and biosecurity ratings, BSL4.
The request, which is currently in the proposed budget for fiscal year 2018, is for $350 million. But more will be needed later; the new high containment continuity laboratory, as it is called, would be built on the site of one of only a few parking facilities on the CDC’s main campus.
(The main campus is in a part of the city not served by the Atlanta subway system; parking on the site is already inadequate for the number of people who work there.)
The existing facility contains a number of BSL4 labs and labs that are one step down the biosafety and biosecurity ladder, BSL 3 enhanced. That’s where research on dangerous avian influenza viruses like H5N1 and H7N9 is conducted.
Buildings that house these types of labs simply require a lot of maintenance, explained Dr. Dan Jernigan, head of the CDC’s influenza branch.
“We’re just faced with the realities of what it takes to maintain something as complex as the high containment lab,” he said.
These types of buildings incorporate complicated air filtration and other systems designed to allow the researchers to work safely as well as to ensure that the bad bugs they contain stay on the inside.
The CDC’s goal is to have the new facility built in time to ensure the transition from the current labs to the new ones is seamless, Damon said. It will take a number of years to build the new facility and have it certified for select-agent research.
“We’ve always tried to maintain that continuity. I think there’s just too much that’s unpredictable,” Damon said. “When you need that facility … you want to have it available. You don’t know when the next SARS is going to happen, or the next large Ebola outbreak.”