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9-Misc: University of Washington (USA) plans to build a level 3 anti-terrorism lab failed

-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  UW biolab unlikely: school can't raise needed money
SOURCE: Seattle Post Intelligencer, USA, by Jake Ellison
DATE:   21 Jul 2005

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UW biolab unlikely: school can't raise needed money

The University of Washington's controversial proposal to build a regional
biocontainment laboratory on its Seattle campus appears dead.

UW President Mark Emmert said in an e-mail yesterday to his top
administrators that efforts to raise the $35 million needed to secure a
grant from the National Institutes of Health to build the Level 3
research lab "have proved fruitless."

"In all likelihood," he said in the letter, provided to the Seattle Post-
Intelligencer last night, "this will ensure that the grant will not be

Earlier yesterday, a UW official told the P-I that Emmert would report to
the Board of Regents today that the university had failed to raise the money.

Emmert's announcement comes ahead of a Saturday deadline set by the NIH
for establishing a source for the money. After the regents meeting,
Emmert also will tell the federal agency the university doesn't have the

Emmert could not be reached last night for additional comment.

The UW quietly applied in December for a $25 million NIH grant to build
the roughly $60 million biolab. The high-security facility would have
been used to study a wide range of deadly pathogens that could be wielded
by terrorists or break out on their own, such as avian flu, anthrax and
the plague.

Once word of the proposal got out, neighborhood leaders were angry over
the secrecy and worried that the lab posed a danger to the densely
populated community.

"I'm happy to hear that it is a dead issue because from a community
standpoint ... our concern was for the safety of the people and
students," said Kent Wills, president of the University Park Community Club.

"As long as UW was willing to pursue having this facility on campus and
near the water, it was just not a viable proposition," he said yesterday
when told the news.

The lab would have been financed directly by the National Institute of
Allergy and Infectious Diseases arm of NIH as part of that agency's plan
to create a national biodefense network.

The UW already has one part of that network in place. Samuel Miller, a
university researcher who helped craft the biolab plan, won a $50 million
NIH grant in 2003 to create a regional center of excellence for
biodefense and emerging infectious disease research.

The government has helped build 11 of the so-called Level 3 labs and
intends to award about $125 million this year to building another five to
eight of the stand-alone facilities.

The UW proposal would have created a 56,000-square-foot facility built to
a level of safety known as biosafety 3. It already has 30 labs built to
this level on campus.

The top level is a super-secure, biosafety 4 used for handling the most
dangerous bugs, such as Ebola. UW officials have emphasized that they
have no desire to build a Level 4 lab.

Miller, a microbiologist, has argued in favor of the biocontainment
proposal, saying the lab would have been used primarily for studying
naturally occurring organisms and emerging infectious diseases such as
influenza, tuberculosis, avian flu or SARS.

Those diseases, he said, are a much greater threat than rare cases of
manmade bioterrorism.

Major local political leaders, including U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and
Maria Cantwell and Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, also had lined up in favor
of the lab, writing letters to NIH in support of the UW's application.

However, neighborhood rejection of the proposal was unanimous and fierce
at several public hearings on the proposal.

In April, a group representing more than 20 neighborhood organizations
sent a letter to Emmert opposing the anti-terrorism research facility,
citing concerns about safety and government secrecy.

The university's own report of the public hearings concluded that if the
UW built the lab on campus, it would have dealt a "devastating, if not
final, blow to the community's attempt to work with and trust the university."

In June, NIH gave UW's proposal a rating of "very good," but has required
more information since then, leading to a team of UW officials traveling
to Washington, D.C., to defend the proposal.

Funding for the lab had always been a major sticking point. Many UW
officials had acknowledged that the lab was not a priority for the
medical school, which is focused on building up its current research
enterprises on South Lake Union.

"Regardless of any eventual siting decision that might have emerged,"
Emmert said in the e-mail, "this experience points up the critical need
for high-quality research space at the University and the paucity of
resources available to meet the needs. We will no doubt encounter other
such challenges in the future."

Albert Berger, a leading proponent of the plan and vice dean of research
at the medical school, said yesterday that telling NIH that the
university doesn't have the matching money "would kill the project."

"That's excellent news," said Matthew Fox, president of the University
District Community Council and one of the most outspoken critics of the lab.

"For whatever reason it doesn't happen, I think it's good news for the


The University of Washington applied in December to the National
Institutes of Health for a $25 million grant to build a regional
biocontainment laboratory. Here are some of the details of that proposal:

The 56,000-square-foot building would have cost roughly $60 million.

It would have contained six large Level 3 "biocontainment" labs, a 1,568-
square-foot Level 3 vaccine production facility and two Level 2 labs.

The facility was originally planned for a piece of land near Portage Bay
adjacent to UW's oceanography building.


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