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HOLLY SPRINGS, N.C. – Swiss pharmaceuticals maker (NYSE: NVS) is opening the doors today at its first U.S. plant to produce flu vaccines using cell cultures instead of egg-based methods.

Holly Springs is the site for the huge plant, which cost some $1 billion.

The facility is geared to supply 150 million doses of pandemic vaccine within six months of an influenza pandemic declaration; according to Novartis. The plant also will be “ready to respond to a pandemic as early as 2011 if licensed in an emergency,” according to the company.

"We are proud to be one of the first companies to bring influenza cell culture as well as adjuvant technology to the United States," said Daniel Vasella, chief executive officer and chairman of Novartis, in a statement. "We have seen a great need to invest into new technologies for flu vaccines that will allow for quicker and more reliable production capacity. We are pleased to be working closely with the U.S. government to build a world-class, state of the art manufacturing facility in the U.S. that will change the way we manufacture influenza vaccines in the future.”

Vasella is expected to be on hand for the opening as is Andrin Oswald, CEO of Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics.

The ceremony will begin at 4 p.m.

Novartis received some $487 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to help build the facility.

More than 100 people to work at the plant and the company plans to hire 200 more.

The 430,000 square foot plant recently installed the “reactors” in which the flu vaccine will be grown. The plant will cost $600 million. Construction has been underway for nearly two years.

Amid a bidding war for the plant, Holly Springs officials offered an economic incentive package estimated to be worth about $40 million.

Although it isn’t expected to produce vaccines to combat the ongoing H1N1 pandemic, the company did say it could begin production of a key ingredient – an adjuvant, which boosts the effectiveness of vaccines – in December.

“As part of its partnership with HHS, Novartis is responsible for, among other things, pre-construction document development, land use and zoning, construction, commissioning, validation and licensing of the facilities with the goals of regulatory licensure, manufacture and release of seasonal and pre-pandemic vaccine, as well as provision for pandemic vaccine supply in the event of a pandemic or other vaccines or biologicals in the event of an emergency for an emerging infectious disease,” Novartis said.

“The partnership also requires Novartis to provide two commercial-scale annual lots of pre-pandemic vaccine for a minimum of three years. In addition, HHS has the right to exercise options to purchase additional influenza vaccine over 17 years.”

Novartis will use the plant for production of vaccines based on cell cultures rather than the traditional means of produce vaccines through the cultivation of seed virus in chicken eggs.

Novartis said once the plant is in full operation it will be able to supply 150 million doses of pandemic flu vaccine six months after a pandemic is declared.

The sale of flu vaccines from cell cultures is not yet approved in the United States, but Novartis is allowed to produce them there. Novartis already operates a cell-based flu vaccines plant in Marburg, Germany.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.