RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Global pharmaceutical giant Merck has confirmed that its flagship Durham vaccine manufacturing facility is gearing up to help competitor Johnson & Johnson produce COVID-19 vaccine. That’s good news for North Carolina – and the world.

So says Bill Bullock, the North Carolina Biotechnology Center’s senior vice president, Economic Development and Statewide Operations.

“North Carolina’s long-term investment in the life sciences is not just good for our state,” he noted. “This growing cluster of biomanufacturing companies serves a global need that will only continue to require more of what our outstanding workforce can provide,”

He also championed the Merck site saying, “The Durham plant plays a tremendous role in controlling the global spread of preventable diseases, It’s an impressive example of the strength and diversity of this state’s biotechnology and pharmaceutical sector.”

Merck HillemanCenter in Durham. (Photo via NCBiotech Center)

Numerous North Carolina companies are contributing to the production of COVID-19 vaccines, therapies, diagnostics and protection devices. Most notably, FUJIFILM Diosynth is manufacturing Novavax’s COVID-19 vaccine at its facility in Research Triangle Park.

In a two-sentence statement issued Wednesday evening, Merck put an end to rumors that the massive Maurice R. Hilleman Center for Vaccine Manufacturing in Durham was joining the scramble to produce a share of the hundreds of millions of doses needed to quell the pandemic.

“Our Durham, NC facility is part of Merck’s global manufacturing network,” the company said in a statement. “This site is preparing to produce bulk drug substance for the J&J’s vaccine.”

Merck in Durham to produce ‘bulk drug substance’ for Johnson & Johnson vaccine

Even though two vaccine candidates under development by Merck failed to pass muster in clinical trials recently, Merck agreed with federal officials to cooperate with J&J and combine Merck’s world-class biomanufacturing capabilities with J&J’s to help whack the scourge of COVID-19. Merck had not yet disclosed which sites around the world would also be involved in the project, nor did the company say whether its nearby facility in Wilson would be impacted.

The selection of the 262-acre Durham site comes at a time of expansion there, with investment approaching $2 billion. Its 900,000-plus square feet of real estate houses the production of a wide range of Merck products. And the growth is on the way in the form of a $650 million, 225,000-square-foot addition, where the company will manufacture the active ingredient for Merck’s recombinant human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine.