Novartis, a major contributor to North Carolina’s reputation as “Vaccine Central,” is stepping up its game again.

Not only is it planning to expand its $1 billion Holly Springs biomanufacturing campus with a $47 million addition starting next month, but the Swiss global pharmaceutical giant is also about to open a new research and development operation in Research Triangle Park.

Chris McDonald, head of Novartis’ (NYSE: NVS) Holly Springs biomanufacturing facility, said the company has just signed a five-year lease on the RTP lab and office space.

Some 30 technical development scientists will initially relocate there from Holly Springs, he said, but the RTP site will eventually accommodate about 100.

The company has some 760 employees working at the Holly Springs biomanufacturing campus.

“Pipeline Products”

The RTP staff will work on so-called “pipeline products.” He said those include such things as the company’s joint effort with the National Institutes of Health to develop an HIV vaccine, and another group working on a vaccine against cold-like infections from respiratory syncytial virus.

He added that some process development work being done currently at Novartis’ Cambridge, Mass., viral research labs will also be transferred to the RTP site.

Brent MacGregor, president of Novartis’ U.S. vaccines operations and head of the North American region, said the company hopes to introduce a quadrivalent version of its trivalent Flucelvax flu vaccine “in a couple of years.” 

Each year pharmaceutical manufacturers typically developed a vaccine to target two strains of “type A” viruses and one “type B,” thus the term “trivalent.” But starting this year, consumers have limited access to vaccines covering an additional “type B” strain, thus the term “quadrivalent.”

MacGregor, a Canadian who worked for Novartis vaccine competitor Sanofi Pasteur in Japan just before joining Novartis’ executive ranks in East Hanover, N.J., last year, said Novartis is scouting for partnerships to expand the vaccine franchise.

He said he’s especially interested in finding a way to deliver vaccines via a skin patch rather than as a liquid drawn from a vial that requires refrigeration. “A patch could be a quantum leap forward,” he said.

MacGregor said his global travels have increased his respect for North Carolina’s 30-year rise to a position of life science leadership, especially in biomanufacturing.

NC ‘Got Out Front,’ But Faces Stiff Competition

“North Carolina got out in front of other states,” he said. “They saw the potential, and grabbed onto it. The ‘first-mover’ advantage is key – it snowballs onto itself. Now every state competes with North Carolina. They all want these high-skill, high-paying jobs that North Carolina has created so well.”

He also said he loves the combination of North Carolina’s biotech prowess and its lifestyle attractions. He said earlier in his career he was in a sales territory that included western North Carolina, and he especially loved visiting Boone.

He’s also a hockey fan, but so far hasn’t been able to get to a Carolina Hurricanes game. He’s coming back to Holly Springs for an Oct. 31 visit by Swiss government officials. No word yet, though, whether he’ll be able to stay for the ‘Canes’ Nov. 1 home game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

(C) NC Biotech Center