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Statement About Conversion of Facilities at Fort Detrick, Maryland, to a Center for Cancer Research

October 18, 1971

FOR thousands of years, mankind has dreamed of turning swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks--of changing the implements of war into instruments of peace. Today we mark another chapter in the realization of that dream as we announce that one of our largest facilities for research on bacteriological warfare is being converted into a leading center for cancer research.

This announcement grows out of two major initiatives which this Administration has taken over the past 2 years. The first was my decision in November of 1969 that the United States would no longer engage in the research, production, or stockpiling of offensive biological weapons. The second was the decision, which I first announced in my State of the Union Message last January, to launch a major campaign to conquer cancer.

The decision to terminate biological weapons has made available for other uses some of the Nation's most sophisticated scientific facilities including the Amy's Biological Defense Research Center at Fort Derrick, Maryland. Fort Detrick's nine major laboratory complexes and its additional smaller laboratories constitute a major portion of this Nation's containment facilities for high-hazard microbiological research. In addition, the scientists and technicians who have worked at Fort Derrick represent a pool of talent and dedication which should also be regarded as an important national asset.

It is my strong feeling that these unique physical and human resources should not be wasted or dispersed. And this is especially the case since the particular facilities and expertise which are found at Fort Derrick can be converted so effectively and so inexpensively to an intensive program of cancer research.

It is my hope that this specific conversion will help illustrate the general potential for using defense related facilities to meet pressing domestic challenges. Cutbacks in certain defense needs have provided a considerable supply of expertise and equipment which can now be used for nondefense purposes--if only we take advantage of them. By mobilizing these resources, we can help advance important public goals even as we alleviate the economic burdens which threaten idled workers and their families.

The National Cancer Institute has decided that the best way of utilizing Fort Detrick is by contracting for its operation with the private sector. This arrangement will do much to enhance the flexibility of its operations. A private contractor, for example, is usually in a better position to draw upon a diversified range of public and private assistance. Such an arrangement has been used most successfully by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and by the Atomic Energy Commission in its work at Brookhaven and Oak Ridge. It is our hope that the converted Fort Detrick laboratories will be fully operational by the early months of 1972.

The standards of excellence which have been fostered at Fort Detrick and the distinguished scientific reputation which it has achieved give us every reason to believe that it will play a major role in the battle against cancer in the years ahead. That battle must now be waged with all the determination and effectiveness this Nation can muster. We lose more people to cancer each year than died in battle in all of World War II. If the present rates of incidence were to continue, some 50 million Americans who are now alive would someday be victimized by this disease.

The action of the Congress in approving my $100 million request for the cancer cure program was an important step in the campaign against cancer; so was the vote of the Senate approving the Conquest of Cancer Act--which provides for an independently budgeted program with a director who is responsible directly to the President. I again urge the House of Representatives to act promptly on this matter so that we can get on with this important work.

As this project goes forward, we will be working to get the best scientific minds in this country involved in charting its course. In that connection, we are pleased to announce that 40 distinguished members of the biomedical scientific community have agreed to participate in the initial phase of this work. This group will hold its first meeting in Washington from October 25 through October 29, 1971.

Note: The statement was released at Fort Detrick, Md.

Richard Nixon, Statement About Conversion of Facilities at Fort Detrick, Maryland, to a Center for Cancer Research Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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