Opinion: A site of the future
With so many human diseases still to be conquered, it is not surprising that the focus of investment by most drug manufacturers is on human rather than veterinary medicines. It is usually only when a virus crosses the species boundary, such as the swine and bird flu viruses or BSE, that the public pays much attention to animal health.
But when a major animal disease outbreak occurs, the suffering caused to both animals and humans, together with the major economic damage, are suddenly thrown into stark relief.
The most recent outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) in the UK in 2007 was not a naturally occurring incident, but resulted from allowing the virus that was being used for research to escape from the laboratory. Despite thorough investigations, the precise chain of events will probably never be known, but one factor was thought to be a lack of investment in the Institute for Animal Health facility at Pirbright.
It may be a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted, but a new £10m interim Containment Level 4 laboratory has now been completed to replace the one that was shut down in 2007. Even this is not the end of the road: by 2014 this lab will be part of an even bigger and better complex that will be the best high containment facility in the world.
But no matter how efficient the physical containment measures may be, it is impossible to safeguard fully against human error. It would be a shame if the financial investment in the new facility were not matched by a similar investment in the skills and training of all those who will be working there.
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