The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is working with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to stand up the new National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) in Manhattan, Kansas. This state-of-the-art facility will be a national asset that helps protect the nation’s agriculture, farmers and citizens against the threat and potential impact of serious animal diseases.
The DHS Science and Technology Directorate has built the facility to standards that fulfill the mission needs of the USDA, which will own, manage and operate NBAF once commissioning activities are complete, which is expected later this year in 2022. USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) will conduct foreign animal disease research, training and diagnostics in the facility.
Protecting the Nation's Food Supply and Public Health
The United States currently does not have a laboratory facility with maximum biocontainment (BSL-4) space to study high-consequence zoonotic diseases affecting large livestock. NBAF will be the first laboratory facility in the U.S. to provide BSL-4 laboratories capable of housing cattle and other large livestock. NBAF also will feature a Biologics Development Module (BDM) for the pilot scale development of vaccines and other countermeasures, augmenting laboratory research and accelerating technology transfer to industry partners.
NBAF’s location in Manhattan, Kansas, places it within the Kansas City Animal Health Corridor, the largest concentration of animal health companies in the world. NBAF is constructed and operated on a secure federally-owned site, adjacent to Kansas State University’s Biosecurity Research Institute.
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According to the World Health Organization, approximately 75 percent of new and emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic diseases which may be transmitted from animals to humans.
Why is A New Facility Necessary?
Animal disease research, diagnostics and training are currently performed at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center (PIADC). However, the center is more than 65 years old and does not have the capability to meet research needs relating to emerging and zoonotic animal disease threats. As USDA mission requirements expand to meet these challenges, a new facility with enhanced biocontainment capabilities and modern laboratory designs is necessary to fulfill future needs. Additionally, NBAF is necessary to meet the requirements of Homeland Security Presidential Directive 9 (HSPD-9).
Designed to Ensure Safety and Security
The National Academies of Science (NAS) 2012 review of the Updated Site-Specific Biosafety and Biosecurity Mitigation and Risk Assessment for NBAF, found the design to “meet or exceed” modern biocontainment standards. The laboratory’s critical systems include redundant safety and biocontainment features. In the event of a tornado, the facility’s biocontainment areas are designed to a standard like those applied in the nuclear industry for structural and containment integrity. All recommendations identified in prior risk assessments were incorporated into the NBAF design.
The NAS report also found that the current NBAF design incorporates best practices used in other animal and zoonotic pathogen laboratory facilities in the United States and abroad. NBAF will be the nation’s only large animal BSL-4 facility built to safely handle pathogens that do not currently have treatments or countermeasures.
The USDA and the Centers for Disease Control will not issue a certificate of registration allowing select agent research at NBAF until all requirements are satisfied. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) previously made the commitment to the safety of the community, the workers in the facility, and local livestock that the facility would not be operational unless it could be done safely. USDA will continue that longstanding commitment as NBAF transitions into USDA’s owner/operator role.
NBAF Construction & Operations
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) finished construction of NBAF in May 2022 but there are few more steps before critical science operations can start in the building. DHS is working to finish commissioning the facility, which is the testing of all the systems inside the facility to ensure everything is running properly.
As with any complex facility or system, there could still be challenges ahead. At this time, commissioning is expected to be complete later this year in 2022. After facility commissioning, work processes must be tested and validated in accordance with the building systems. Scientists will confirm laboratory set-up, evaluate workflows, and ensure equipment is functioning appropriately. USDA will ensure all research can be accomplished safely and effectively.
For example, before any work with biological select agents and pathogens can begin, the facility and personnel must undergo a series of inspections and reviews by the federal select agent program, or FSAP. Even after commissioning is complete and USDA takes ownership of the facility from DHS, it will still take at least a couple of years to transfer the full science mission from the Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York to NBAF in Kansas.
The USDA is working with several federal partners for a seamless transfer of the science mission from PIADC to NBAF that includes an overlap of operations to make certain there is no interruption of the critical science and operational capabilities during this transition period.