“We're marking the first change in influenza vaccine manufacturing in the United States in 50 years,” Robin Robinson, director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority in HHS' Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, said in the news release. “The pandemic readiness of this facility is a major milestone in national preparedness for pandemic influenza and other diseases.”
The site will use a new technology that uses cultured animal cells rather than fertilized eggs, a process that can be scaled up faster when responding to a pandemic, according to a Novartis news release. HHS said the technology may also be adapted and used to manufacture cell-based vaccines for other emerging infectious diseases in an emergency.
In a 2010 report, HHS announced a new medical countermeasures strategy and said the government would invest $2 billion to fund its efforts.
HHS and Novartis are also partnering with Rockville, Md.-based Synthetic Genomics Vaccines to develop technologies that can short the manufacturing timeline and with North Carolina State University to train scientists from outside the U.S. to use the new cell-based technology.
Novartis was awarded the $487 million contract in 2009. Construction on the plant is expected to be completed in 2012.