HOLLY SPRINGS – Novartis’ vaccine plant is ready to gear up to fight a flu pandemic should one strike the United States.

State and federal officials on Monday marked the Novartis plant in Holly Springs as ready to react if there’s a serious flu outbreak.

“Today we’re marking the first change in influenza vaccine manufacturing in the United States in 50 years,” said Robin Robinson, director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority in HHS’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR). Robinson led the effort for HHS, in a statement. “The pandemic readiness of this facility is a major milestone in national preparedness for pandemic influenza and other diseases.”

The Swiss pharmaceuticals maker’s plant in southern Wake County opened two years ago with the U.S. Health and Human Services Department allocating about half the $1 billion cost.

Novartis said the plant will be able to supply millions of doses of flu vaccine if a severe outbreak is declared.

Novartis and the government “also are working with North Carolina State University to train scientists from other countries to use cell culture based manufacturing techniques similar to what is used in the new facility,” Novartis stated. “The training program is part of a World Health Organization initiative to strengthen the ability of developing countries to produce flu vaccine, potentially reducing the global threat from influenza.”

The plant develops flu vaccines using cell cultures, a more efficient method to produce vaccine than the slow method of cultivating seed virus in chicken eggs. Novartis already operates a cell-based flu vaccines plant in Germany.

“On behalf of North Carolina’s life science community I want to congratulate Novartis Vaccines & Diagnostics on bringing its Holly Springs facility to pandemic-readiness,” said Sam Taylor, president of the NC BIO business organization/

“This accomplishment not only greatly improves America’s ability to respond to pandemic influenza, but also sets an important cornerstone for development of other vaccines and medical countermeasures.

“NCBIO also wishes to recognize the many North Carolina businesses, educational institutions and government entities that have supported Novartis’ work at Holly Springs,” he added.

“We are especially proud of the important part that North Carolina’s world-class worker training and education network has played in providing skilled workers for this state-of-the art manufacturing facility. Today’s ceremonies clearly reflect the significant strength and continuing advancement of North Carolina’s life science community.”

Novartis chose to build the plant in North Carolina in 2006. The facility opened in 2009.

A year ago, Novartis announced plans to expand the plant and add another 100 jobs.

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