Novartis opens doors to $1B vaccine plant

Federal officials have cleared Novartis' North Carolina-based vaccine plant for production of flu vaccines in the event of an influenza outbreak. The $1 billion plant is the first in the U.S. to manufacture flu vaccines using cultured animal cells rather than the traditional, less flexible egg-based method. The Holly Springs plant is part of a 25-year public-private partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services. 

Cell-based vaccine manufacturing is better suited to respond to the demand surge in an influenza outbreak than traditional vaccine production methods. The influenza virus is injected into lab-grown cell lines, where it multiplies until it is removed and inactivated for use in a vaccine. The process takes weeks, rather than months, and cell-based vaccines can be frozen for storage prior to the flu season. Additionally, cell-based vaccines are less susceptible to contamination than perishable egg-based vaccines. 

In the event of a pandemic, the new facility could produce up to a quarter of the country's vaccines, according to the HHS press release. The technology can also be applied to known and emerging infectious diseases.

"Today we're marking the first change in influenza vaccine manufacturing in the United States in 50 years," said Robin Robinson, Ph.D., director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority in HHS' Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR). Robinson led the effort for HHS. "The pandemic readiness of this facility is a major milestone in national preparedness for pandemic influenza and other diseases."

- check out the announcement
- read the Bloomberg Businessweek article

Editor's Note: This article incorrectly stated that Novartis was opening the first cell-based manufacturing plant in the U.S. The Holly Springs plant is the first in the U.S. to manufacture cell-based flu vaccines.