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Inside Vaccines

The Egg Came First, Then Cells Got Culture

Center for Disease Control and Prevention

North Carolina was already in front of the curve when Novartis broke ground on its $1 billion flu vaccine plant here a few years ago.

Novartis just extended the curve.

Novartis found a way to bypass the traditional, slow process of growing vaccines in eggs. Instead, they grow them in large tanks. That allows for a faster response when a new viral threat like the flu is identified.

In May 2006, the federal government awarded Novartis $450 million to help build a new factory to make pandemic flu vaccines. Company executives decided to build the $1 billion cutting-edge cell-culture-based vaccine-manufacturing facility in the Research Triangle Park-area community of Holly Springs.

N.C.’s $1 Billion Shot Is Heard Around the World

Site Selection magazine called it one of North America's top 20 economic development packages of the year. It was, in large part because specialists from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center and numerous partners in statewide economic development had been working with Novartis for several years.

When the 430,000-square-foot plant becomes fully operational in 2013, its 350 employees will be able to crank out 150 million doses of flu vaccine in just a few short months of production. That could go a long way toward quelling a flu outbreak and saving lives.

And in December 2010 Gov. Bev Perdue and Novartis announced that the company would be adding a $36 million, 100-employee development lab and pilot plant at the Holly Springs site.

Besides influenza vaccine, Novartis Vaccines produces meningococcal, pediatric and travel vaccines. Novartis employs about 1,000 North Carolina workers, counting those at facilities in Greensboro and Wilson.

We Have Big Names at the Right Time

Thanks to North Carolina’s world-class research universities, highly skilled workforce and business-friendly environment, major pharmaceutical companies such as Novartis, Merck, Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, Talecris and many others have invested tens of billions of dollars in manufacturing plants.

Good for North Carolina —and for the world. Vaccines are becoming an increasingly important part of the global health arsenal. And they’re an ever-bigger chunk of North Carolina’s bioscience activity.

The world is shrinking as more people travel. So speed in vaccine production is more important than ever. We need to halt newly erupting viral diseases before they rampage.

It’s a good time to be in the vaccine business. And North Carolina’s a good place to be in it.