The Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research was established as the NCI-Frederick Cancer Research Center in 1972. The government transferred 67 buildings and about 71 acres on the U.S. Army’s Fort Detrick
campus to the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (now Health and Human Services), which included the National Cancer Institute.
Since then, we have become an internationally recognized center of scientific excellence in cancer, AIDS, and infectious disease research. Our achievements include advances in biomedical science, work on the first test used to screen blood for HIV/AIDS in the 1980s, leading roles in several major initiatives, contributions to biodefense and clinical trials, and manufacture of experimental treatments and vaccines for studies worldwide.
As a Federally Funded Research and Development Center, we respond rapidly and keep pace with new discoveries, development opportunities, and health care priorities. We use private-sector resources to advance the National Cancer Institute’s mission and improve public health.
We are proud to have served the public for nearly five decades, and we remain dedicated to meaningful science for a better, healthier world.
Go back in time
- The Serology Laboratory releases the Human SARS-CoV-2 Serology Standard.
- The Protein Expression Laboratory produced proteins for the landmark NIH Serosurvey, which showed that 16.8 million people had an undiagnosed SARS-CoV-2 infection.
- Antibody manufactured at Frederick National Laboratory receives FDA approval to treat Ebola virus disease.
Frederick National Laboratory pivots certain research and support efforts to COVID-19 response
- The Clinical Monitoring Research Program Directorate helps rapidly set up and oversee large, international COVID-19 clinical trials.
- The HPV Serology Laboratory begins evaluating SARS-CoV-2 serology tests for the Food and Drug Administration.
- National laboratory staff and collaborators develop and deploy the official NIH COVID-19 Treatment Guidelines website.
- Some RAS Initiative laboratories purify two SARS-CoV-2 proteins for study and, in partnership with Argonne National Laboratory, begin using a molecular library to identify molecules that can stop the virus from replicating itself in a host.
- The Basic Science Program begins studying whether variation in genes that control the immune system can affect the severity of COVID-19 infection.
- The SeroNet Coordinating Center opens at Frederick National Laboratory, facilitating activities and collaboration among the NCI Serological Sciences Network for COVID-19 (SeroNet).
- CAR T-Cell Facility opens at Frederick National Laboratory.Working with the National Cancer Institute and the National Institutes of Health Center for Cellular Engineering, the Biopharmaceutical Development Program sets up the facility in less than a year.
- mAb114, an antibody manufactured at the Frederick National Laboratory, and REGN-EB3 show promise in Ebola patients in the Pamoja Tulinde Maisha (PALM) clinical trial in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Frederick National Laboratory responds to the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo
National laboratory staff help set up and oversee the clinical trial, purchase and ship medical equipment and supplies to the Ebola treatment units, and train Congolese health care workers. The Vaccine Clinical Materials Program manufactures and ships more than 10,000 vials of mAb114, an experimental anti-Ebola antibody developed by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
- National Cryo-Electron Microscopy Facility opens as a national resource, giving thousands of scientists nationwide access to cryo-EM capabilities.
- Frederick National Laboratory helps establish the ATOM consortium, a public-private partnership that seeks to significantly shorten the time it takes to develop new treatments for diseases.The partners combine expertise in cancer, AI, machine learning, laboratory science, biochemistry, and pharmaceutical manufacturing to develop tools, practices, and strategies that advance their goal.
- The Molecular Characterization Laboratory develops and validates a new, larger genetic sequencing technique to detect mutations as part of the National Cancer Institute Pediatric Molecular Analysis for Therapy Choice (Pediatric MATCH) precision medicine trial.
- Dr. Ethan Dmitrovsky becomes head of Leidos Biomedical Research and Frederick National Laboratory
Frederick National Laboratory scientists and their collaborators operating under the aegis of the RAS Initiative publish the first structure of the hypervariable region, the “floppy tail,” of the KRAS protein that’s implicated in many human cancers. The advance allows scientists to see KRAS in its entirety for the first time, making it possible to identify new parts that may be targeted for cancer treatment.
- Nanotechnology Characterization Laboratory helps set up the European Union Nanomedicine Characterization Laboratory, its mirror facility.
- Frederick National Laboratory helps to plan and conduct the National Cancer Institute Molecular Analysis for Therapy Choice (NCI MATCH) precision medicine trial. The Molecular Characterization Laboratory sets up and validates the genetic sequencing technique used to detect the mutations, beginning to sequence some participants’ samples and lead a laboratory network that sequences the rest. The former Biomedical Applications Development Center designs a computer algorithm, NCI-MATCHBox, and data store that analyzes the genetic data and assigns participants to the best medicine for them.
Frederick National Laboratory responds to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa
- The Clinical Monitoring Research Program works with health care entities in Liberia to set up Ebola vaccine clinical trials, train Liberian health care workers, communicate important information to Liberian communities, and recruit participants to the trials.
- Frederick National Laboratory establishes procedures for handling clinical specimens and helps to set up the clinical laboratory in Liberia.
- The Vaccine Clinical Materials Program manufactures and ships more than 6,800 vials of vaccine and more than 5,800 vials of diluent.
- SAIC-Frederick changes its name to "Leidos Biomedical Research, Inc."
- The RAS Initiative launches.
- The AIDS and Cancer Virus Program helps illuminate an area of HIV immunology. Scientists in the program, in collaboration with a team at Oregon Health & Science University, demonstrate vaccine-associated clearance of HIV infection by the immune system in a nonhuman primate model of AIDS.
Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research is formally established
- The Federally Funded Research and Development Center in Frederick receives official national laboratory designation.
- SAIC-Frederick becomes the heart of Frederick National Laboratory. Meanwhile, federal NCI staff in Frederick continue as “NCI at Frederick,” a sister facility that works closely with the national laboratory.
- The National Cancer Institute establishes the Frederick National Laboratory Advisory Committee, bringing together national experts in biomedical research twice yearly to review the lab and offer recommendations for how its capabilities can be deployed most effectively.
Dr. David Heimbrook becomes head of SAIC-Frederick
- The Vaccine Clinical Materials Program releases its first product: an avian flu vaccine.
- Clinical Research Directorate is created at NCI-Frederick to incorporate and expand upon the Clinical Monitoring Research Program, supporting clinical trials, clinical regulatory processes, and patient care.
- Vaccine Pilot Plant opens in Frederick.
- The former HPV Immunology Laboratory contributes to the development of a cervical cancer vaccine.
Nanotechnology Characterization Laboratory (originally called “the Nanotechnology Standardization Laboratory”) is created.
Clinical Monitoring Research Program is established.
Frederick Cancer Research and Development Center renamed National Cancer Institute at Frederick.
National Cancer Institute signs a three-year lease for a CRAY SV1 supercomputer at the Frederick Cancer Research and Development Center
- The computer replaces the CRAY Y-MP model that had been in operation in Frederick since 1991.
- It has a processing speed of 115 gigaFLOPs, just 3.99 times faster than the processor in a modern-day business-grade laptop. Yet at the time, it is reportedly enough power to compute in one day what a contemporary high-end Pentium computer required four years to complete.
Biopharmaceutical Development Program partners with USAMRIID on biodefense. Scientists in the program develop pilot lots of a vaccine against SEB, the second most common source of food poisoning outbreaks and a major threat to human health when aerosolized, for the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases
Biological Response Modifiers Program shuts down in Frederick, and elements relocate to Bethesda, MD.
Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) acquires the Operations and Technical Support contract for Frederick Cancer Research and Development Center. SAIC-Frederick becomes the major contractor.
The Biopharmaceutical Development Program begins operations to develop monoclonal antibodies, recombinant proteins, peptide and DNA vaccines, virus vaccines and oncolytic viruses, and other biological agents for early phase clinical trials.
- Interferon alpha shows effectiveness against hairy cell leukemia at the former Biological Response Modifiers Program. Between 85 and 90 percent of patients’ cancers respond to treatment.
- CRAY X-MP supercomputer comes online. It is reportedly one of only 115 CRAY supercomputers in operation at the time—and the only one dedicated solely to biomedical research. The computer has approximately 65 miles of wire and 70,000 soldered connections.
HIV/AIDS research developments
- The Frederick Cancer Research Facility begins producing viral proteins for HIV antibody tests and then helps to develop and manufacture an HIV/AIDS test on a large scale for national use.
- Dr. Matthew Gonda contributes to important early HIV/AIDS studies to detect evidence of HIV in the blood and semen from an otherwise-healthy man at risk of AIDS and in saliva from people living with AIDS, people with pre-AIDS symptoms, and certain otherwise-healthy individuals thought to be at risk of AIDS.
Frederick Cancer Research Facility responds to the AIDS epidemic
- The National Cancer Institute creates the AIDS Task Force and includes the Frederick Cancer Research Facility.
- Frederick Cancer Research Facility begins producing virus for AIDS studies.
- A scientist at the facility captures images of HIV via electron microscopy. The images are published in Science on May 4, 1984, as part of a study led by the National Cancer Institute’s Dr. Robert Gallo.
The National Cancer Institute splits the Frederick Cancer Research Facility between five contractors. Program Resources Inc. is awarded the Operations and Technical Support contract, the forerunner to the Frederick National Laboratory.
- Drs. Isaiah Fidler and Ian Hart demonstrate that cancer cells spread to new organs independently of blood flow, validating Stephen Paget’s 90-year-old “seed and soil” theory. The study changed the understanding of how tumors spread in a host.The journal Nature later called the discovery “a milestone in cancer research.”
- First patients admitted to the Biological Response Modifiers Program inpatient unit
- Frederick Cancer Research Center renamed Frederick Cancer Research Facility.
- The Frederick Cancer Research Center partners with the National Cancer Institute and the Frederick Memorial Hospital to launch the Biological Response Modifiers Program in Frederick. The program aims to use natural biological compounds, like antibodies and interferons, for cancer treatment. The program also installs the first CT scanner at Frederick Memorial Hospital.
- Dr. Margaret Kripke becomes head of the Cancer Biology Program (formerly the Basic Research Program).
Dr. Michael Hanna becomes director of the Frederick Cancer Research Center.
Drs. Isaiah Fidler and Margaret Kripke prove, for the first time, that tumors are composed of many different types of cells. The work would eventually be recognized as a landmark discovery that redefined the scientific understanding of tumor biology.
Viral Oncology Program is consolidated to investigate links between pathogens and cancer.
National Science Foundation designates Frederick Cancer Research Center as a Federally Funded Research and Development Center. The designation recognizes the center as a government-owned, contractor-operated facility designed to achieve long-term research and development needs that could not be met as effectively by existing in-house or contractor resources.
Weinhouse Committee recommends the Frederick Cancer Research Center be expanded. A National Cancer Advisory Board ad hoc committee led by Dr. Sidney Weinhouse reviews the center and determines that, while it’s succeeding, it isn’t on course to become an internationally recognized research and development center. In response, committee members propose the creation of a large Basic Research Program comprising scientists who perform mostly independent research.
- The Frederick Cancer Research Center officially opens with just 15 employees.
- The National Cancer Institute announces a $6.8 million contract with Litton Bionetics, Inc. to operate the cancer research center. At the time, the contract was the largest the National Cancer Institute had ever signed.
- Dr. Boris Vasilevich Petrovski, the Soviet Union’s Minister of Health, tours the Frederick Cancer Research Center.
- Nixon announces conversion of part of Fort Detrick into a cancer research center on Oct. 18.
- Nixon signs the National Cancer Act into law, which establishes the National Cancer Advisory Board and President’s Cancer Panel and grants the NCI director a host of new privileges, including establishing new cancer research facilities, such as the one planned at Fort Detrick.