The world’s largest animal-health company, Zoetis, is selling a poultry vaccine, and the North Carolina plant that makes it, to Huvepharma, an animal-health company based in Bulgaria.

Employees at the plant in Maxton, near Laurinburg, will become employees of Huvepharma, the company said in a news release announcing the sale.

The North Carolina purchase is part of Huvepharma’s larger acquisition of medicated feed additives, water-soluble veterinary products, animal pharmaceuticals and two manufacturing plants in Arkansas and Colorado. The $40 million cash deal is expected to close in the first quarter of 2016.

The Zoetis acquisition “reinforces and builds upon our commitment to our customers in providing high-quality products for livestock, produced in our EU- and USA-based facilities,” said Kiril Domuschiev, president and owner of Huvepharma. “We are satisfied that the strong brands associated with these assets will continue to strengthen our position in key markets and reinforce our growth potential.”

The Maxton plant, in Scotland County, produces Inovocox EM1, a vaccine that protects broiler chicks against coccidiosis, a parasitic disease of the intestinal tract caused by coccidian protozoa.

The plant was built in 2004 by Embrex, a 1985 startup company in Research Triangle Park that developed poultry vaccines and invented a high-speed system, Inovoject, for injecting vaccines into chicken and turkey eggs. The system transformed poultry production by automating inoculations that previously had been given to newborn chicks by hand.

Embrex became publicly traded in 1991 and was sold in 2006 to Pfizer Animal Health, a division of Pfizer Inc., for $155 million.

Pfizer spun off the animal health business in 2013 as Zoetis, a fully independent company that raised $2.2 billion in an initial public offering of stock.

The sale of assets by Zoetis is part of the company’s plan to cut costs and improve operating margins in response to shareholder pressure to improve its stock price. Zoetis said it would sell or close 10 manufacturing plants and lay off about 25 percent of its global workforce, roughly 2,500 jobs.

Huvepharma is a global animal-health company headquartered in Sofia, Bulgaria, with product sales in more than 90 countries. The privately owned company markets products used in swine, poultry and cattle production.

(C) N.C. Biotechnology Center