skip navigation nih record
Vol. LXVI, No. 18
August 29, 2014

cover

next story


FDA Exits Campus This Summer After 73 Years

What Makes a Building Historic?

FDA Colleagues Unite One Last Time On Campus




FDA Exits Campus This Summer After 73 Years

On the front page...

Bldg. 29 has long anchored the FDA presence on campus.
Bldg. 29 has long anchored the FDA presence on campus.

Owing to the Food and Drug Administration’s decision to consolidate its operations at a sprawling new campus in White Oak, FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER) and Center for Drugs Evaluation and Research (CDER)—vestiges of which have lain at the heart of NIH’s campus for 73 years—will abandon the Bldg. 29 complex this summer.

The 29 complex consists of three buildings—all of which are interconnected—located just south of the Clinical Center: Bldg. 29, built in 1960; 29A, built in 1968; and 29B, constructed in 1994.

The NIH facilities working group has decided that Bldg. 29 will remain vacant while the Office of Research Facilities studies the cost-effectiveness of renovation. Bldg. 29A will be used as swing space to facilitate ongoing renovations of Bldg. 10. And 29B, the newest wing, will be occupied by NICHD, NIAID and NIMHD.

The exit plans have nothing to do with the discovery in July of some 327 vials of infectious agents in Bldg. 29A; those were found as part of preparations to move out.

Continued...

Both 29 and 29A, originally referred to as the Center for Biologics Annex, have been determined eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. They not only hosted the research labs of illustrious NIH women scientists such as Dr. Margaret Pittman and Dr. Ruth Kirschstein, but also were the only facilities in the U.S. dedicated to the regulation of biological medicines.

“Presently, the Office of Research Facilities is developing a more detailed housing plan for 29B as well as a list of key repairs to conduct in both 29A and 29B prior to occupancy,” said Dan Wheeland, ORF director.

There may be no one better qualified to comment on FDA’s exit than Dr. John Finlayson, who arrived at NIH in October 1958 as a biochemist, before ground for Bldg. 29 was broken, and spent his entire 56-year career on campus.

The CBER mural is “hiding in plain sight” in the lobby of Bldg. 29A, said FDA’s Dr. John Finlayson. It recounts scientific highlights and center leadership. Finlayson (r) meets with FDA microbiologist Dr. Mike Schmitt in a first-floor laboratory in Bldg. 29. Finlayson occupied the same lab half a century ago.

The CBER mural is “hiding in plain sight” in the lobby of Bldg. 29A, said FDA’s Dr. John Finlayson. It recounts scientific highlights and center leadership.



Dr. John Finlayson (r) meets with FDA microbiologist Dr. Mike Schmitt in a first-floor laboratory in Bldg. 29. Finlayson occupied the same lab half a century ago.

Photos: Ernie Branson, Rich McManus

“It really looked like a college campus,” he said. It was taboo back then to use such a word: “This is not a campus, but a government reservation!” Finlayson mock-thundered. He recalled a more pastoral day when lunch-time walks near a willow-lined brook that ran by Bldg. 21 “restored your soul if your experiments failed. Of course nowadays the campus resembles something between Manhattan and an armed camp.”

Finlayson, who considered his PHS posting to NIH tantamount to being ordered “you will report to duty in heaven—for a biochemist, there was no better place in the world,” spent 14 years in the Division of Biologics Standards (DBS) before becoming, overnight, an FDA employee on July 1, 1972, when DBS joined FDA. Although he retired in 2004, he has volunteered part-time at FDA ever since.

Bldgs. 29A (l) and 29B—these newer wings will be occupied by NIH’ers soon.
Bldgs. 29A (l) and 29B—these newer wings will be occupied by NIH’ers soon.

“FDA is so [culturally] intertwined with NIH that it’s almost like Greek mythology, where the son gives birth to the father and vice versa,” he observed. Collaborations between scientists at both agencies have been robust, he said, some even pre-dating scientists’ arrival at either NIH or FDA.

This quote from Louis Pasteur adorns the entryway to Bldg. 29.
This quote from Louis Pasteur adorns the entryway to Bldg. 29.

Finlayson’s most enduring cross-agency partnerships included those with NCI’s Dr. Michael Potter—the two worked together from 1960 to 1975—and NHLBI’s Dr. John J. Pisano, whom he knew in graduate school; the two collaborated from 1968 to 1978.

Finlayson said the “mass transfer” of about 300 DBS employees from NIH to FDA in 1972, accomplished with the stroke of a pen, required a modification of mindset.

“There was a time of suspicion,” he recalls. “The NIH people thought of FDA as just badge-and-gun people. People at FDA considered NIH a bunch of longhairs and consultants to industry. There was a gradual development of mutual respect.”

Finlayson still remembers the dedication of Bldg. 29 on June 30, 1960, when King Bhumibol of Thailand and his wife the Queen presided over a ceremony that also included the surgeon general. Finlayson, who had been in Bldg. 8, moved into a first-floor laboratory in Bldg. 29 and remained in the building for more than 45 years, retiring as associate director for science, Office of Blood Research and Review.

Finlayson considered his PHS posting to NIH tantamount to being ordered “you will report to duty in heaven—for a biochemist, there was no better place in the world.” He spent 14 years in the Division of Biologics Standards before becoming an FDA employee on July 1, 1972, when DBS joined FDA. Although retired since 2004, he has volunteered part-time at FDA ever since. Finlayson considered his PHS posting to NIH tantamount to being ordered “you will report to duty in heaven—for a biochemist, there was no better place in the world.” He spent 14 years in the Division of Biologics Standards before becoming an FDA employee on July 1, 1972, when DBS joined FDA. Although retired since 2004, he has volunteered part-time at FDA ever since.

Although Finlayson will not transfer to White Oak—he made July 4 his exit date—he said his fellow FDA scientists “will miss the NIH culture. My colleagues are only at the beginning stage of realizing how much they will miss it…The lab people would just as soon never move, but they’re good soldiers and they’ll go.”

Finlayson taught biochemistry for 25 years at NIH’s Foundation for Advanced Education in the Sciences and noted that other FDA faculty may have to sever ties with FAES.

His long tenure on campus has given him a “worm’s eye view” of multiple reorganizations and upheavals at both FDA and NIH over the years—he can spin fascinating tales of personnel crises and knows where many a body is buried. “There’s an old proverb,” he says. “Reorganization is a way of life in government.” This is simply the latest iteration.

What Makes a Building Historic?

Built in 1960 for NIH on grounds formerly belonging to the original Woodmont Country Club, Bldg. 29—first called the Biologic Standards Laboratory Bldg.—is nationally significant to the history of science, according to Phillip Neuberg, NIH historic preservation officer.

“Some of the nation’s most illustrious scientists worked in this building’s laboratories, first for NIH and later for the Food and Drug Administration,” said Neuberg. “[The roster] reads like a who’s who of 20th century science—Margaret Pittman, Ruth Kirschstein, Harry Meyer, Jr. and Paul Parkman.” This legacy has made the building eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

Kirschstein, the first female director of an NIH institute (NIGMS) and later both NIH deputy director and acting NIH director, spent her early scientific career working in 29. She tested the safety of viral vaccines for polio, measles and rubella. From 1957 until 1972, she was a researcher in experimental pathology at what was then NIH’s Division of Biologics Standards.

On hand at the dedication of Bldg. 29 were the King (seated, l) and Queen (seated, r) of Thailand, Surgeon General Leroy Burney (seated, c) and, at the podium, DBS director Dr. Roderick Murray. King Bhumibol had been invited because of his active role in health measures in his own country and his interest in the South East Asia Treaty Organization-NIH Cholera Research Project.

On hand at the dedication of Bldg. 29 were the King (seated, l) and Queen (seated, r) of Thailand, Surgeon General Leroy Burney (seated, c) and, at the podium, DBS director Dr. Roderick Murray. King Bhumibol had been invited because of his active role in health measures in his own country and his interest in the South East Asia Treaty Organization-NIH Cholera Research Project.

Photo: Robert Pumphrey

Pittman, NIH’s first female lab chief, was noted for her work on whooping cough. She was considered an expert in the development and standardization of bacterial vaccines. She worked on improved vaccines for pertussis, typhoid and cholera, among others.

Parkman worked with Meyer on the problem of rubella. In 1967, they developed the first easy-to-use test for rubella antibodies. In 1969, the first rubella vaccine (based on their weakened virus strains) was licensed for commercial production, ending large rubella epidemics in the U.S. It later became part of the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine that essentially eradicated indigenous rubella in the U.S.

Bldg. 29’s architect was Ted Englehardt, who is perhaps best known for designing buildings on the University of Maryland College Park campus and Montgomery County fire stations, in which he relied heavily on a traditional Colonial revival style, Neuberg said.

“Unlike the aforementioned designs, Englehardt’s design for [Bldg. 29] employs a chaste, practically detail-devoid aesthetic that clearly reflects an economy of both purpose and budget which was likely to have been a requirement of both the client…and the users.”

The principal occupants of Bldg. 29A since its opening in the late 1960s have been the Division of Virology and the Division of Control Activities (known in later years as the Division of Product Quality). Dr. Lewellys F. Barker conducted notable research into vaccinia and hepatitis B in 29A. Dr. Gerald Quinnan’s research in the same building contributed significantly to our understanding of varicella (chicken pox virus), influenza, RSV (respiratory syncytial virus, a cause of bronchitis in children) and CMV (cytomegalovirus, a herpes virus that can be serious in certain patient populations). Dr. Paul Albrecht’s work also led to a much greater understanding of measles and its treatment. Dr. Kathryn Zoon, now with NIAID, studied interferons in her laboratory in 29A and later became director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research.

Bldg. 29A also represented a new approach of modular flexible laboratories. The design provided larger structural bays, with multiple lab modules, which could be reconfigured easily as research studies change. Utilities such as heating, ventilation and air conditioning, gases and filtering were located in a way allowing easy access for alterations and maintenance.


FDA Colleagues Unite One Last Time On Campus

Hundreds of colleagues from FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research and Center for Drugs Evaluation and Research gathered at a June 27 picnic to celebrate their many years of collaboration on the NIH campus before their impending move to new FDA buildings in White Oak.

Many are excited about the move. They’re looking forward to working in a new building where the labs have windows. Soon, they’ll be consolidated with other FDA colleagues and form new partnerships. But they also admit they’ll miss their NIH colleagues.

“It was the best of all possible worlds here,” said Dr. Amy Rosenberg, director of FDA’s Division of Therapeutic Proteins. At NIH, she said, her team could focus on the science and not be burdened with politics, which let them efficiently carry out their regulatory work. She hopes her team carries that experience to White Oak.

“NIH offered great accessibility for cutting-edge science, technology and collaboration,” she said. “We hope to maintain contacts with interest groups here.”

FDA employees gather on the lawn of the Bldg. 29 complex to enjoy a last-hurrah picnic on June 27. A new campus awaits them in White Oak, Md.
FDA employees gather on the lawn of the Bldg. 29 complex to enjoy a last-hurrah picnic on June 27. A new campus awaits them in White Oak, Md.

Jean Manirarora, a postdoc contractor, said he’ll miss the NIH immuno-logy working group but hopes to keep in touch and continue to share research.

Some lamented having to adjust to a new commute. Dr. Mark Weinstein, associate deputy director, Office of Blood Research, worked on campus for 12 of his 21 years at FDA. He lives just across the street from campus and said the biggest thing he’ll miss is walking to work.

Dr. Marian Major, an FDA lab chief who worked on campus for 18 years, said she’ll also have a much longer commute. She’ll miss her campus colleagues, she said, but hopes NIH and FDA connections continue. “Maybe if people are apart, they’ll make even more of an effort to connect with each other.”

On a sunny afternoon, colleagues chatted and reminisced on the Bldg. 29 lawn, while banjoist Jim Rice (formerly of FDA) and guitarist/singer Wayne Lininger played bluegrass music. Rice was a key member of the now dispersed musical group The Bldg. 6 Boys, who played at many an NIH holiday party.

“I’ll miss everything,” said Dr. Karen Elkins, an FDA lab principal investigator. “This is a premier scientific environment; it’s impossible not to miss that and the luxury of great collaborations and support. This was a great facility for us for 73 years and that’s a tough act to follow.”—Dana Steinberg


back to top of page