Protein Sciences takes over fully equipped Wyeth vaccine plant

One way to start up a vaccine manufacturing operation is to simply take over a mothballed plant left idle by one of Big Pharma's merger shakeouts. That is exactly what Protein Sciences is doing in New York. In anticipation of FDA approval of its recombinant influenza vaccine Flublok, the company says it is looking to expand manufacturing near its Meriden, CT, headquarters as well.

"With Flublok approval around the corner, the company anticipates significant growth." said Protein Sciences' CEO Manon Cox.

Protein Sciences will inhabit a fully equipped, 83,000-square-foot vaccine plant where Wyeth once made vaccine. Pfizer ($PFE) inherited the Pearl River campus in Rockland County, NY, in its $68 billion buyout of Wyeth and started trimming back operations there a year later. Protein Sciences will make its own "multimillion-dollar investment" in the plant, for which it has a 5-year lease with an option for another 5 years. It says it will need 50 employees to kick off production but foresees needing up to 150 over the decade.

Happy to see the plant back in production, the Empire State Development of New York is ponying up $2 million in tax credits for the operation. The company also hopes to snag manufacturing support through the federal Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), which supported development of Flublok and sister vaccine Panblok, which are designed to protect against a flu pandemic. Protein Sciences is also trying to persuade Connecticut officials to provide some incentives so that it can expand manufacturing there as well. 

The company touts the fact that no actual flu virus is needed to produce its vaccine, which takes out the risk of patients developing flu from it. Because the vaccine is made in a recombinant process, and not with eggs like most flu vaccines, the biotech also expects the shot to be safe for people with egg allergies.

The FDA just last month approved a Novartis ($NVS) process in which it uses cell culture instead of eggs to make flu vaccine. That effort is also BARDA-backed. Novartis will use a cell-culture system derived from the kidney of a dog for its vaccine. Production will be transplanted to Novartis' Holly Springs, NC, plant when that facility gets FDA approval for production. Novartis is building the plant with about $500 million in support from the U.S. government. Health and Human Services has been parceling out dollars for vaccine production with the agreement that if a pandemic should occur, the U.S. could say how much of what vaccines would be produced. Novartis says the joint investment in the technology and plant is about $1 billion.

- here's the release