Posted Jun. 26, 2014 at 11:30 a.m.

North Carolina emerges as leader in world vaccine development

Published: 2014-06-26 11:30:52
Updated: 2014-06-26 11:30:52

In the third part of a series offering an overview of North Carolina's global prominence as a home for life science companies, the N.C. Biotechnology Center's Jim Shamp provides an overview of vaccine development.

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. -  Blame it on today’s globe-hopping lifestyle.

Travelers are increasingly bringing what once were considered third-world diseases -- dengue fever and chikungunya, for example -- to backyards near you.

Fortunately, one American hot spot is leading the world in vaccine technologies. The next time you catch some scary news about unusual outbreaks, flu deaths, pandemics or bioterrorism, you can consider North Carolina your best hope for health.

North Carolina is the world vaccine leader. This top-tier bioscience state goes viral when vaccines are the topic.

For example, if dengue, chikungunya, West Nile and about 200 other mosquito-carried viruses have you concerned, Raleigh-based Arbovax has a platform for that (see blue box sidebar, right side of this story). The clinical–stage vaccine developer is connecting with investors to make dengue its first target. From there, the sky’s the limit.

North Carolina is also home to two of the world’s most advanced vaccine manufacturing factories, built in part by the federal government to be first responders when bad bugs hit.

Vaccines from the billion-dollar Novartis cell culture facility in Holly Springs are one example. That factory's egg-free Flucelvax flu vaccine, produced without antibiotics or preservatives, was just approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. A year earlier, the FDA approved U.S. sales of Flucelvax produced at a similar Novartis factory in Marburg, Germany.

N.C.'s Life Science Industry: An Overview

Nearby, Medicago’s RTP vaccine factory is part greenhouse. It grows viral-like particles in tobacco leaves. Fast. It aced a test for the federal government by producing 10 million doses of flu vaccine in one month.

In all, N.C. has 28 vaccine companies employing 13,000 people in development and/or manufacturing. A big reason it’s such a vax magnet is its renowned workforce training. It includes biomanufacturing “classrooms” with industry-standard stainless steel vats and piping and custom-designed curricula that even the FDA uses to teach its own inspectors.

The state’s awesome vax pack includes big firms like Biogen Idec, Fujifilm Diosynth, DSM, GlaxoSmithKline, Greer Laboratories, Grifols, Merck, Pfizer and Zoetis.

And there’s a wide range of nimble, smaller players with fascinating technologies like the Arbovax platform, to tackle not only viral infections but cancer as well. Companies like Argos Therapeutics, Heat Biologics, Pique Therapeutics and Soy Meds.

North Carolina’s vaccine prowess is on display at the North Carolina Pavilion at the BIO International Convention through June 26 in San Diego.

Note: Jim Shamp is director of public relations for the Biotech Center.

(C) N.C. Biotechnology Center


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