BSL-4 laboratory containment, a disease outbreak of a highly contagious zoonotic virus or a novel pathogen of undetermined transmissibility in US livestock would require appropriate biocontainment on an emergency basis. Research to characterize the infectious agent, validation of diagnostics, and studies of pathogenesis, virulence, shedding, transmission, and host range and susceptibility would need to be investigated in live animals.
As the committee explored the potential of relying on international partners for emergency work that might require ABSL-4 large-animal laboratory space, it found remarkably little capacity near the United States. In fact, space limitations at the Canadian biocontainment facility in Winnipeg, Manitoba, have resulted in a project to expand the capacity for ABSL-4 large-animal containment there. The committee notes that it is in the interest of the United States to actively pursue partnerships with countries that have ABSL-4 large animal laboratories to study known zoonotic agents of agricultural concern. However, given the uncertainty over priorities of a foreign laboratory and logistical difficulties in an emergency, it would not be desirable for the United States to rely on international laboratories to meet ABSL-4 large-animal needs in the long term. Therefore, as part of the national infrastructure for protecting animal and public health, the committee concludes that there is an imperative to build ABSL-4 large-animal space in the United States (Conclusion 5).
A key question is whether cost savings would be realized by reducing the scope and capacity of an NBAF and performing some functions elsewhere. As noted in Chapter 4, the committee was provided limited and insufficient information to assess the actual costs of this scaled-back option (which included reductions in the currently planned space for building support and BSL-3Ag, BSL-3E, and BSL-4 space). The DHS staff asserted that any redesign of the current plan for the NBAF, even a reduction in size, would add to its cost. The committee was surprised that DHS had no contingency plan for a building of reduced size in the event of budget cuts. Moreover, the committee found a sizable discrepancy between costs projected for constructing the proposed NBAF and costs associated with other recently constructed biocontainment facilities. The committee did recognize that part of the discrepancy in construction costs results from the recommendations to “harden” the proposed facility because of concerns about the building's structural integrity for the proposed site. But there is not a good estimate of operating costs for the streamlined scenario.
A partnership of a central national laboratory of reduced scope and size and a distributed laboratory network could effectively protect the United States from FADs and zoonotic diseases, potentially realize cost savings, reduce redundancies, and enhance the cohesiveness of a national system of biocontainment laboratories. However, because the cost implications of reducing the scope and capacity of a central facility cannot be known without further information and study, it will be important for DHS to make a good-faith effort to re-examine construction and operating costs of a laboratory of reduced size and complexity.