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Novartis Plans North Carolina Flu-Vaccine Facility
posted by admin on 19/07/06

It plans to build a $600 million flu-vaccine plant in the U.S

July 19, 2006; Page D13

Swiss drug maker Novartis AG said it plans to build a $600 million flu-vaccine plant in the U.S. that will use new technology designed to eliminate production glitches that can occur at older plants and result in flu-shot shortages.

The factory should be completed in three to four years and will be able to produce 50 million shots of seasonal flu vaccine a year, Novartis said. In the event of a flu pandemic, which many health officials fear could be triggered by avian flu, the plant's capacity could be expanded, Novartis said yesterday.

Most of the world's flu-vaccine factories use a decades-old production process that is time-consuming and vulnerable to contamination. Production problems two years ago at one of the biggest factories supplying the U.S. market left the U.S. short of flu shots that year.

On the heels of that debacle -- and as a result of rising fears of avian flu -- the U.S. government has been offering drug companies financial incentives to increase flu-shot production capacity. A $220 million grant from the Department of Health and Human Services will help cover more than a third of the cost of building the Novartis plant.

Construction of the plant, in Holly Springs, N.C., is expected to begin in 2007. Vaccines there will be derived from cell cultures, rather than from the chicken eggs currently used at most plants. The newer technology is designed to produce vaccines more quickly and reliably.

Novartis is building the plant "to be able to meet the growing need for seasonal influenza vaccines and to quickly respond to a potential pandemic influenza threat once the factory has been completed," Novartis Chief Executive Daniel Vassal said in a prepared statement. Other vaccine makers are also considering building plants based on cell cultures.

Novartis, which bought into the vaccine business earlier this year by acquiring Chiron Corp., has already built a cell-culture flu-shot plant in Maribor, Germany, and carried out clinical trials of the new shots in Europe. Last month, Novartis asked European regulators to approve the sale of the cell-culture shot.

Write to Jeanne Whalen at

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