2020 | Coronavirus

Nonprofit eyes Montgomery County for global pandemic prevention center

County considering $500,000 to help with project

share this

Logo from Connected DMV

A nonprofit is considering Montgomery County as the site of a global pandemic center that would focus on prevention, research and response.

The Global Pandemic Prevention and Biodefense Center would serve as the “world’s epicenter” for pandemic prevention and biodefense ecosystem coordination.

County Council Member Hans Riemer proposed a $500,000 special appropriation to help fund the strategy phase of the project, which began in December. The appropriation was introduced at the council’s meeting on Tuesday.

Connected DMV, the nonprofit, focuses on initiatives with government, private industry academia and community partners. The nonprofit and other partners are leading the effort to craft plans for the center.

Montgomery County is home to headquarters for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, National Institutes of Health, and research labs — including some developing COVID-19 vaccines — and attractive for a center focusing on health crises.

Connected DMV launched in early 2019. It was focusing on economic growth before the COVID-19 pandemic refocused its efforts.

Rich Bendis, founder and CEO of nonprofit BioHealth Innovation, said the project will first focus on gathering about $2.5 million in public and private funding to begin a six-month strategic phase, which includes staffing, consulting, supplies and other planning costs.

Bendis is the co-leader of the project’s Strategy Phase Leadership Team.

Connected DMV CEO Stu Solomon, the other team co-leader, could not be immediately reached for comment.

Other key participants in the project include:
● Dr. James Crowe of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Center
● Dr. Richard Tubb, a retired brigadier general and former chief White House physician
● Dr. Steve Projan of MedImmune
● Andy Weber, former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Defense programs
● University System of Maryland
● Maryland Technology Council
● Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense
● DLA Piper
● Aperture Law Group

A steering committee of an anticipated 38 nonprofit, academia, industry and government officials includes County Executive Marc Elrich and Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation CEO Ben Wu.

The center’s launch project AHEAD100, which was founded by Crowe, is a public-private-academia program to generate and stockpile neutralizing monoclonal antibodies for the top 100 known pathogens most likely to result in global epidemics.

Preparing the monoclonal antibodies solutions for the leading pathogens through Phase 1 of the project has been estimated to cost $2 billion.

The center would organize and collaborate on the effort with other organizations and research labs around the world on the antibodies work.

Other areas of focus for the center would be development of vaccines, antiviral drugs, rapid data assimilation, personal protective equipment, and other related needs.

Bendis said no other county has the concentration of federal and medical assets that Montgomery County has. But the leadership team is also considering other locations, he said, and the financial support of $500,000 from the county would be needed to commit to locating there.

“There are potential other locations. The logical location, we believe, could and should be Montgomery County,” he said, adding that economic development funds from the county and state would help reduce costs.

“There is not a center or institution or foundation in the world that is trying to address this as a potential solution,” he said.

Having a center focused on pandemic response, research and recovery would help officials from having to start from “ground zero” and instead have actual research to quickly take into consideration for response, Bendis said.

“The center doesn’t have to control everything. It just has to know and connect the resources and the needs,” he said. “I think that this is going to be evolving very rapidly because it needs to be on a fast track. We have no idea when another pandemic is going to happen.”

In a phone interview, Riemer said the center is an exciting opportunity for the county.

“We need to move quickly to make this happen. … There’s a general recognition that Montgomery County would be a great place for it to locate. At the same time, Montgomery County has to step up with this to close the deal,” he said of the $500,000 appropriation. “That was definitely the messag e that I got right from the beginning.”

Riemer said a potential hasn’t been discussed, but he could see it on the Metro’s Red Line for a quick trip to NIH, or in White Oak, with a fast walk to the FDA.

“We need to work with the organization and let them guide that process and figure out what’s best for them,” he said.

The $500,000 appropriation, proposed to come from general fund reserves, is scheduled for a public hearing at 1:30 p.m. on Jan. 26.

Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com.