RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — North Carolina is one of three states under consideration as sites for a new vaccine plant, according to the chief executive officer of Novartis AG.

CEO Daniel Vasella told MarketWatch, an online news service, this week that the international pharmaceutical firm could spend as much as $400 million on a new facility.

MarketWatch said North Carolina was a “strong possibility”. The other two states weren’t identified.

“We have three sites now we are evaluating,” Vasella said. “I think within the next few weeks, we will be able to make a decision and be able to make an announcement.”

The company already has a presence in the state. Novartis Animal Health is based in Greensboro.

North Carolina has made recruitment of biopharmaceutical plants and biotech industry facilities a major statewide initiative, investing millions in biotech worker training and site recruitment. United Therapeutics, GlaxoSmithKline, Sandoz, Eisai and August Stiefel Research have all announced expansion, new plant or relocation efforts over the past year. Additionally, a biomanufacturing training facility is being built on N.C. State University’s Centennial Campus, and creation of a biotechnology research campus is underway in Kannapolis.

The new Novartis plant would be used to produce a vaccine to combat avian flu.

Five pharmaceutical firms received more than $1 billion in contracts from the U.S. government last week to prepare for new means of producing such a vaccine. Novartis and GlaxoSmithKline were among them. GSK said it would invest in an existing Pennsylvania production plant.

“Novartis plans to invest additional resources to ensure the successful establishment of a US-based vaccine manufacturing facility,” the company said in a statement. “Discussions between Novartis and potential US site candidates are ongoing.”

Novartis’ Vaccines & Diagnostics group received a contract worth $220.51 million.

The company said a new facility would be required to produce up to 150 million doses of vaccine out of a planned amount of 600 million should a pandemic strike the U.S.

GSK was awarded a contract worth $274.75 million. Solvay, which is based in Georgia, received a $298.59 million contract. MedImmune ($169.46 million) and DynPort Vaccine ($40.97 million) received the others

The new vaccine would be produced with cell-based culturing technology rather than traditional methods utilizing eggs.

Novartis, which is based in Switzerland, has operations in 140 countries.