The National Cancer Institute is terminating a $34 million contract, leaving more than 70 Frederick jobs hanging in the balance.
The federal contract paid Charles River Laboratories International Inc. to supply NCI with rodents for cancer research and maintain the agency's cancer tumor repository. NCI is terminating the contract because of an "external policy change," according to NCI spokeswoman Aleea Farrakh.
Farrakh and an NCI-Frederick staff scientist declined to discuss the details of the policy change.
According to Charles River spokeswoman Amy Cianciaruso, 76 of the Frederick office’s 94 employees currently have roles that primarily support NCI.
Cianciaruso said it is too early to tell if any Frederick employees will be eliminated or reassigned as a result of the contract’s termination.
Charles River Laboratories opened its 52,000-square-foot Frederick office in 2008 to address growing demand for its services and support NCI’s cancer research through the Animal Production Program.
The Animal Production Program, based at NCI-Frederick's labs at Fort Detrick, generally provides NCI scientists with animals tailor-made for their experiments. The animals, usually mice, are bred to have certain traits, such as a weak immune system or an inclination toward diabetes or obesity.
The Animal Production Program supplied NCI scientists, NIH scientists and other federally funded researchers with more than 580,000 pairs of rodents in calendar year 2013.
Charles River monitored the health of the animals, testing them regularly for bacteria, viruses and parasites that might compromise research or become fatal.
The research subjects were produced in Frederick in the Charles River building, Cianciaruso said.
According to a price list from 2011, a single mouse bought through the Animal Production Program can cost between $4 and $100, depending on its genes.
The program will stop supplying animals Sept. 12. The $34 million contract with Charles River, and the Animal Production Program, will end Sept. 25.
NCI is offering the remaining rodents from the Animal Production Program at no charge to “interested parties,” according to a public notice from the agency.
According to Farrakh, NCI’s studies will use alternate sources, such as commercial suppliers and in-house breeding, for rodent research subjects.
Cianciaruso said Charles River’s Frederick office may shift to a commercial role, where it would supply animals directly to clients without going through the NCI program.
The Animal Production Program is operated by the Biological Testing Branch of the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research, under NCI. The Biological Testing Branch also maintains a repository of human and animal tumor cells for research purposes.
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