Merck expands packaging plant to take on more vaccines

With production ramping up at its refurbished vaccine manufacturing plant in Durham, Merck ($MRK) is now investing $15 million to overhaul a nearby packaging plant in North Carolina to accommodate that output.

The upgrades are happening at the company's 225-acre packaging facility in Wilson, reports The News & Observer. The plant has been around since 1983 and most of the packaging currently occurs at room temperature, not at controlled temperatures required for vaccines. It has about 400 employees there.

Merck intends to make a variety of vaccines at the Durham facility. It has invested $1 billion in the project and used a modular construction strategy for off-site fabrication and equipment testing to speed the work. The 214,000-square-foot facility will double the the output of Zostavax and Varivax, vaccines for shingles and chickenpox.

With increased production and growing supplies, the company hopes to regain some of the momentum with Zostavax that was lost when production issues derailed plans in 2006. The company has started an advertising awareness campaign around shingles.

By 2013, Merck expects to be making at least four vaccines at the Durham plant. It has 850 workers now but that could swell to 1,000, The News & Observer reports, and the plant could become the largest manufacturer of vaccines in the world.

- read the News & Observer story