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Archive for Saturday, August 11, 2007

Manhattan’s finalist status for biodefense lab site spells potential for KU

August 11, 2007

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Kansas University has no hard feelings that its in-state rival is still in the running to house a $451 million biodefense laboratory.

In fact, the sentiment is rather the opposite.

"We view Manhattan as a logical choice for this and a very strong candidate," said Kevin Boatright, who is the director of research communications for the office of the vice provost of research. "Clearly the state and nation will benefit from placing it in Kansas."

In early July, the Department of Homeland Security announced that Manhattan was one of five sites that is still being considered for the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility.

The new facility would replace an aging laboratory in New York that combats contagious human and animal diseases and threats to the country's food supply.

For more than 18 months, Kansas officials have been wooing Homeland Security for the facility that could bring 300 jobs and $3.5 billion in economic impact over the next 20 years.

"It's a huge benefit in terms of attracting resources and recognition to the state," Boatright said.

Homeland Security narrowed the final five from a list of 18 potential sites, including a second Kansas site in Leavenworth.

Kansas officials said they believed that Manhattan's newly opened Biosecurity Research Institute was a draw for Homeland Security. The institute studies animal pathogens that spread to humans as well as diseases such as avian flu and how to dispose of animal carcasses after a catastrophe.

If Manhattan is picked as the final site, Boatright said, he expects research opportunities will open up to KU.

"It may not be obvious, but KU and K-State have a very long history of strong research collaboration," Boatright said.

Boatright said that KU already has strong programs in the biosciences arena. And, he noted there is a close relationship - an almost indistinguishable one - between animal health and public human health.

Boatright said that KU has set the goal to be a strong resource for drug discovery and the delivery of vaccines.

And, professors at the school are developing models that set up the worst case scenarios on how diseases might spread through populations.

"It's difficult at this stage to say who might be involved and what projects might be included," Boatright said. "It could be in quite a variety of areas."

Boatright noted that KU's Chancellor Robert Hemenway is on the 43-member task force that is working to bring the facility to the state of Kansas.

The other sites still in the running for the biodefense facility are San Antonio, Madison County, Miss; Athens, Ga.; and Granville County, N.C.

The facility could create at least 300 lab-related jobs, plus support staff. Construction is expected to create 1,500 construction jobs over four or five years.

Each of the sites will go through a detailed environment impact study. Homeland Security is expected to make a final decision by October 2008.

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