Science - December 23, 2010

New centre for scary animal diseases planned for Lelystad

Minister of Agriculture Maxime Verhagen has a Christmas present worth 17m euros for the town of Lelystad.
He will fund a new research centre at the Central Veterinary Institute (CVI) for vaccinations against zoonotic diseases.

The new research centre in Lelystad is a response to the Van Dijk commission's report on Q fever. Veterinary and human health services worked unilaterally on the Q fever outbreak, and Van Dijk argued for an alliance between public health and agriculture in research on zoonoses (infectious diseases that can pass from animals to humans).

Early in December, Verhagen announced that he would be putting five million euros into a new facility for laboratory animals at the CVI, on condition that the province of Flevoland and Wageningen UR would contribute too. The province offered three million euros, while Wageningen UR had already invested about eight million in improving the existing facility.

No escape
The investments are in the CVI's 'high containment unit' for testing vaccines against infectious animal diseases which can be transmitted to humans. It is of course essential that these pathogens do not escape. Moreover, the researchers working on them must be well-protected. With the funding from the minister and the province, the CVI can renovate and extend the complex as well as upgrade the safety measures to the required 'biosafety level'. The institute can then research infectious zoonoses for which no medicines or vaccines have been developed to date.

Fifty jobs
What will be done with the other 12 million euros offered by Minister Verhagen is not yet clear. The money has been allocated to a consortium including the Veterinary Medicine faculty at Utrecht, Wageningen UR, the RIVM and the Dutch Vaccine Institute. Veterinary drug manufacturer Intervet, based in the Brabant town of Boxmeer, will be involved too. Consortium members will stay where they are, says CVI spokesperson Dorine Luijkx, but they will conduct their tests on dangerous animal diseases in Lelystad. She expects the investments in Lelystad to deliver about fifty highly skilled jobs.
In recent years, the CVI has found it difficult to run its research facilities at a profit. The institute points out that high containment units in other countries are fully funded by their governments.

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