Texas A&M University will receive one of three national biodefense contracts to help the country quickly develop vaccines in the event of a pandemic and strategies for responding to bioterrorism.
The three Centers for Innovation in Advanced Development and Manufacturing were announced Monday by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp.
"We have long served our nation and risen to defend our country against national security threats," Sharp said.
The biodefense centers will work to develop vaccines to rapidly respond and protect against influenza pandemics and conduct research and training for responding to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats.
The other centers will be located in Maryland and North Carolina. The initial contract for the center at Texas A&M is worth $176 million and can be renewed for up to 25 years. University officials project a long-term investment of up to $1 billion and laud it as the biggest federal program to be awarded to the state of Texas since NASA.
"It's a game-changer for us, and, we think, for Texas," Sharp said.
In 2010, President Barack Obama said he wanted the country to develop a new plan for a better and quicker response to bioterrorism threats and attacks, the White House said. The move came after the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation gave the government a failing grade for its efforts to prepare for and respond to a biological attack.
The new centers are a "dramatic step forward in ensuring that the United States can produce life-saving countermeasures quickly and nimbly," Sebelius said. "They will improve our ability to protect Americans' health in an emergency."
Texas A&M will partner with Georgia-based pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, Kalon Biotherapeutics in College Station and nearly 20 other public and private researchers across the country.
Sharp said Texas A&M was well-positioned to bid for the project, given its historical connection to the U.S. military and its ongoing research in the fields of engineers, life sciences and veterinary medicine.
"This is just another war: A war against natural pandemics and not-so-natural terrorism," Sharp said.
Sharp also projected spinoff research and development in fields such as cancer research, predicting the contract will results in the thousands of construction and professional jobs for the state.