State of the art laboratory opens in Richmond

Latest addition to new East Coast center for biosciences

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RICHMOND, Va. – The Virginia Biotechnology Research Park will host the grand opening of its newest building, biotech six, which will be occupied by one of the most advanced laboratories in the United States, the Virginia Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services (DCLS).

Gov. Mark Warner, Secretary of Administration Sandra Bowen and Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, will be keynote speakers before hundreds of invited guests at the dedication, Monday, June 9 at 10 a.m. at the Park.

DCLS provides a full range of services to the Commonwealth, testing everything from fertilizers, water, air, gasoline and lottery tickets to blood samples from all infants born in Virginia as part of the Commonwealth’s newborn screening program.

The new $63 million, 194,500 square-foot facility will be one of five laboratories in the United States equipped with Biosafety Level 4 (BSL4) lab space specifically designed to meet worldwide standards for safely handling the most dangerous pathogens.  The facility also will contain BSL3 lab and training space, appropriate for working with infectious microbes, and laboratories designed to work with chemical agents of terrorism.

Virginia is unique in consolidating all of its labs into one division and under one roof, according to Dr. James L. Pearson, director of the DCLS.  “This gives us tremendous flexibility and the ability to offer a wide range of services to Virginia and to the country,” Pearson said.

As the newest tenants of the Virginia Biotechnology Research Park, DCLS will join the Virginia Division of Forensic Science, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, and the United Network for Organ Sharing, along with 42 private life-science companies, four Virginia Commonwealth University Institutes and more than a half-dozen non-profit organizations.

“The Virginia Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services is not only an important facility in protecting the health and welfare of the citizens and communities across the Commonwealth, it is nationally recognized as one of the most comprehensive labs anywhere in the country,” said Robert T. Skunda, President and CEO of the Virginia Biotechnology Research Park.  “This lab will complement the growing number of companies and research institutes located in the Park and will help extend our reputation as the new East Coast center for biosciences.”

The dedication coincides with the annual meeting of the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL), June 8-10 in Richmond.  The association represents governmental laboratories whose work is to protect the public’s health.  Attendees will participate in the dedication and tour the new facility.

“Virginia’s new laboratory is more than a state resource,” said APHL executive director Scott Becker.  “It’s a national asset that strengthens our capacity to respond to bioterrorism and other health threats."

The consolidated laboratory provides analytical testing services to the Commonwealth of Virginia, other states and the federal government as requested.  The facility is also home to some specialty laboratories of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services which test the integrity of seeds sold in Virginia, certify standard weights and performs plant pathology services.

DCLS laboratory staff conduct more than 3 million scientific tests each year to help ensure a safe and healthy environment.  It is part of the national Laboratory Response Network, and is inspected by the Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Food and Drug Administration, among others. The Virginia Consolidated Laboratory was the first consolidated laboratory in the nation to offer a wide variety of scientific testing in support of state programs.

The Virginia Biotechnology Research Park is a joint initiative of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University and the City of Richmond.  The Park, situated on 34 acres adjacent to VCU’s campus, has currently developed 575,000 square feet of research, laboratory, office and support space, accounting for the employment of over 1,200 people.  When fully developed, the park will contain over 1.5 million square feet of space in 18 to 20 buildings and employ 3,000 scientists, researchers, engineers and technicians.  The Virginia Biotechnology Research Park is fast gaining notoriety as the East Coast location for bioscience companies and researchers.