It’s probably a safe bet that Gov. Pat McCrory has already received his flu shot for the 2014-15 season, but he and other VIPs can line up for vaccinations today as Novartis formally dedicates production at its mammoth $1 billion plant in Holly Springs.
But there’s also an interesting back story to the event: The North Carolina Biotechnology Center exec who helped recruit Novartis to North Carolina way back in 2006.
He’s William Bullock, vice president of bioscience industrial development. He’ll be at the event and certainly will be one interested observer.
First, today’s event.
Novartis has assembled quite a lineup for the 1-3 p.m. ceremony at the plant where the company can now produce FDA-approved revolutionary cell-culture based vaccines.
Notes the company: “The Novartis Vaccines Holly Springs manufacturing site is the first U.S. facility of its kind and has been licensed by the FDA to produce pandemic and seasonal influenza vaccines, including Flucelvax, using cell-culture technology.”
The initial Flucelvax products can now hit the market, and to celebrate, the governor is scheduled to attend along with Rep. Renee Ellmers.
But perhaps drawing the most attention will be Dr. Robin Robinson, who has one lengthy title: Director, Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority; Deputy Assistant Secretary for Preparedness & Response, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Representing Novartis is Brent MacGregor, the president of vaccines for the U.S. and “head” of Region North America.
Now, back to Bullock, who by the way earned his MBA at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School.
A veteran of both the North Carolina Commerce Department and the life science industry, he has helped the state land some 25 biotech-related projects since joining the Biotechnology Center since 2008. According to the Center, Bullock has helped secure more than 1,750 jobs, $1 billion in investment and deals that present $2 billion in economic impact annually.
Jim Shamp, director of public relations for he Biotech Center and a veteran journalist who contributes regularly to WRAL TechWire, offers some fascinating insight into the l-o-o-o-n-g and persistent process that ultimately led to today’s ceremony.
The Back Story
“[Bill] started banging on Chiron’s door in California about a decade ago when he learned they were looking for a location for a major new vaccine factory,” Shamp explains.
“He convinced them to give North Carolina serious consideration, and when Novartis took over Chiron, the same people Bill had been meeting with were, by that time, attuned to look at North Carolina for what is now Novartis’ groundbreaking cell culture vaccine manufacturing facility.
“A billion bucks and a lot of years later, here we are.
“Hundreds of high-paying jobs and a redefinition of the town of Holly Springs.
“The first time in America that a vaccine has been made quickly from protein grown in dog cells instead of killed virus grown slowly in chicken eggs.
“It’s a coming-together of the Triangle’s academic prowess/workforce training at BTEC (Biomanufacturing Training and Education Center) on the North Carolina State University Centennial Campus; federal, state and local governmental support; and the Biotech Center working to connect all the disparate players.”
To Shamp, the “unsung hero” in the Novartis story is Bullock.
“A Californian who happened to wind up at N.C. Biotech because he knew the unique economic development requirements of the life sciences and the unique opportunities in North Carolina. And he knew North Carolina would be a good place for Chiron/Novartis to be,” Shamp explains.
“Most folks simply can’t comprehend how long these ‘overnight successes’ take to unfold, and how much goes into making them happen.
“Happily, some folks like Bill do. And do it.”
So here’s a tip of The Skinny’s Cap to Bill Bullock. Just be sure to get your flu shot.
And to Novartis, congratulations. An eight-year-old decision looks likely to now begin pay dividends for the company, the Triangle community – and let’s pray that these new vaccines help prevent a future pandemic.