Kansas Bioscience Authority seeking top researchers

In preparation for the arrival of a $650 million federal research lab, roads and utilities are being rerouted at a 45-acre site just across the street from Kansas State University's football stadium.

But as the arrival of the mammoth National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility inches forward, one state organization hopes to begin a different kind of groundwork.

In the coming months, look for the Kansas Bioscience Authority to spend millions of dollars to bring some of the top foreign animal disease researchers to K-State.

It's a similar concept to what the agency did this year with the Kansas University Cancer Center.

In all, the KBA committed $9 million over five years to bring in five top-tier cancer researchers to the cancer center. The push is to help KU in its quest to become a designated National Cancer Institute facility.

"There is an extraordinary opportunity to do the exact same thing we have done at KU over at K-State," KBA president and CEO Tom Thornton said.

The new scholars will build upon K-State's $12 million Center of Excellence for Emerging and Zoonotic Diseases, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and looks at how to protect the country's food supply from agroterrorism and animal diseases.

The work at K-State will ease the transition when the aging Plum Island facility in New York relocates to Manhattan, Kan. The 500,000-square-foot NBAF will study some of the world's most dangerous animal diseases.

"The key to taking advantage of NBAF is to recruit now and build that capacity and ability now at K-State to advance the programs to quite literally the best of its kind in the nation, if not the world," Thornton said.

Also on tap for 2011, the Biosecurity Research Institute at K-State will work toward gaining the proper federal permits and approval to research five of the eight diseases that will be studied at NBAF.

"It is vital to us because it allows us to get a jump start on these critical pathogens that are the big imminent threat that everyone talks about," Thornton said. "And, it allows for a smooth transition . so when NBAF is up and open they have the initial project team, initial research done."

Construction of NBAF isn't scheduled to begin until 2012 and it won't be fully operational until about 2018. Future funding for NBAF is still wrapped around Congress' approval of a comprehensive spending bill, an issue that should be settled soon.

If approved, DHS will spend $40 million in fiscal year 2011 for the facility's central utility plan. From there, the facility would take four years to build.

"With the $40 million, we will be on track and hold to the schedule," Thornton said.