Biomedical research lab draws attention

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By opening a $50 million Biomedical Research Laboratory (BRL) in June, George Mason University intends to position itself on the front lines of efforts to combat infectious diseases and bioterrorism.

The 52,000-square-foot fac­ility is one of 13 regional biocontainment laboratories being built nationwide with competitive grants from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. But GMU officials say that in addition to seeking medical breakthroughs, BRL will be an economic engine for the region.

“Even before we opened, we started getting serious inquiries from companies that were interested in partnering with us,” says Dr. Charles Bailey, executive director for GMU’s National Center for Biodefense and Infectious Diseases.

The lab is currently negotiating with two startup companies that have developed promising therapeutic treatments. “We expect to draw companies that are focused on either diagnosis of diseases, therapeutic treatments of those diseases or vaccine development; that covers a pretty broad spectrum of the whole approach towards infectious diseases,” Bailey says.

BRL is located on a secure, 10-acre site adjacent to GMU’s Prince William Campus in Manassas It will provide 20,000 square feet of lab space, including bio-safety level-3 laboratories.  Researchers can use these labs to develop and test therapies for dangerous and exotic pathogens and viruses such as anthrax, plague, SARS and new strains of influenza. The facility will be able to generate aerosols of these diseases.

“A lot of the pathogens that would be used by potential enemies of the U.S., like terrorists, are likely to be delivered via an aerosol route, which causes a totally different disease than when it’s transmitted in nature,” Bailey says. “So we’ll be able to evaluate products in an aerosol environment. And up until this laboratory was built, we could not do that.”

BRL will employ about 50 people, including 12 doctorate-level researchers. Bailey believes the facility will help attract biotech companies to Northern Virginia, helping the region win grants and additional investment.

Also, he says, BRL will provide existing Virginia firms with an outlet for new research projects. Bailey says, for example, that GMU has discussed potential studies in an aerosol environment with SRI Center for Advanced Drug Research in Harrisonburg. 

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