U.S. Army medical research institute continues work on coronavirus

By U.S. Army Public AffairsApril 1, 2020

U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases
A medical laboratory specialist performs a diagnostic assay at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases field laboratory site at Fort Detrick, Md. (Photo Credit: Photo by William FBill Discher.) VIEW ORIGINAL

WASHINGTON -- Researchers at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases continue to work on medical countermeasures for the novel coronavirus as part of the DoD’s COVID-19 research effort.

"U.S. Army researchers were critical during the SARS epidemic, the Zika virus and the Ebola outbreak as they helped develop antivirals and vaccines," said Ryan McCarthy, Secretary of the Army. "They've done it before and they will do it again."

"The true heroes in this fight are the medical professionals -- people like the scientists and researchers at USAMRIID," said Gen. James McConville, Chief of Staff of the Army. "They're working on vaccinations, treatments and better ways to conduct tests that will ultimately help the nation defeat the virus."

While some of USAMRIID’s programs were temporarily suspended due to potential safety issues, their ongoing work with SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus, was never affected.

The institute resumed full operational capability -- for all of its programs -- after a recent site visit by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which was followed by a CDC letter dated March 27, 2020, that fully restored the institute’s registration under the Federal Select Agent Program.

In July 2019, the CDC suspended USAMRIID’s registration to work with biological select agents and toxins (BSATs) due to issues with its biosafety program. At no time was there was a risk to employee health, public health or the environment, and no infectious agents were detected outside of containment areas.

Many of the problems stemmed from the failure of Fort Detrick’s steam sterilization plant, which forced USAMRIID to use a new chemical system for treating its laboratory wastewater.

In November 2019, the CDC issued a partial lifting of the suspension. Since then, USAMRIID had been working with BSAT in a limited capacity, with each set of studies reviewed and approved by Army leaders and the CDC.

Because the novel coronavirus is not classified as a BSAT, USAMRIID’s work on COVID-19 has been allowed to continue.

Established in 1969, USAMRIID plays a key role as the lead military medical research laboratory for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Joint Science and Technology Office for Chemical and Biological Defense. For over 50 years, USAMRIID has provided leading-edge medical capabilities to deter and defend against current and emerging biological threat agents. The institute is the only laboratory in the Department of Defense equipped to safely study highly hazardous viruses requiring maximum containment at Biosafety Level 4. Research conducted at USAMRIID leads to medical solutions -- vaccines, drugs, diagnostics, information and training programs -- that benefit both military personnel and civilians.