2021 | Government

County to spend $500K on global Pandemic Prevention and Biodefense Center

Money will help nonprofit work on strategy

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Montgomery County will be home to a new pandemic center that is expected to be an “epicenter” for pandemic prevention and biodefense work.

On Tuesday, the County Council unanimously approved spending $500,000 toward developing the project, which began in December. Council Member Sidney Katz was not present for the vote.

Connected DMV — a nonprofit that focuses on initiatives with government, private industry academia and community partners — is leading the effort to craft plans for the center. The nonprofit launched in early 2019 and focused on economic growth before the COVID-19 pandemic refocused its efforts.

Connected DMV has not chosen where in Montgomery County the center will be.

Montgomery County is already home to the headquarters of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health and research labs, including some developing COVID-19 vaccines.

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.

The center’s launch project, called AHEAD100, 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 also focus on developing vaccines, antiviral drugs, rapid data assimilation, personal protective equipment, and other related needs.

Council Member Hans Riemer, who spearheaded the county’s funding effort, said during the council’s meeting that the county is the agreed-upon location for the project.

“Montgomery County is a leading center in the global pandemic response ecosystem. We are a major center in that ecosystem,” he said. “It has tremendous potential for us in terms of spinning out jobs and companies, and continuing our momentum.”

The county’s investment will help the project happen, Riemer said.

Council Vice President Gabe Albornoz said the county is well positioned to be the home for the center since it is already home to the national health response to the pandemic through NIH, FDA and other companies located in the county.

“This is just a natural extension in many ways,” he said. “If we are successful — and of course, it is a big ‘if.’ There are many moving parts here — it’s important that we be at the table and aggressive in our attempts to attract businesses, government agencies, and in this case, the other layer of continuing to be at the epicenter of the global response to the pandemic.”

Council Member Nancy Navarro said the project is a clear example of “being proactive and understanding how to leverage our assets.”

“There is no doubt that in the region, we are well positioned and nationally, we are well positioned to further this work in an extraordinary way,” she said.

County Executive Marc Elrich, a steering committee member for the center, said in a press release Tuesday afternoon that the country needs to aggressively prepare for future pandemics.

“We were fortunate that there were some companies that were able to pivot their work to develop vaccines, but it’s clear that there’s much more work to do, and we have to be better prepared in creating a center where the research can allow us to act quickly,” he said.

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