Companies Join University Project to Build Vaccine Facility

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ePT--the Electronic Newsletter of Pharmaceutical Technology

Three companies joined the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's 21st Century Biodefense initiative to establish a flexible vaccine development and production facility.

Last week, three companies joined the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s (UPMC) 21st Century Biodefense (21CB) initiative to establish a flexible vaccine development and production facility. Research and development organization Battelle (Columbus, OH), IBM (Armonk, NY), and Merck & Co. (Whitehouse Station, NJ) agreed to help UPMC and its partner GE Healthcare (Waukesha, WI) pursue the university’s project. UPMC intends to operate the vaccine facility in a partnership with the federal government to strengthen the country’s biosecurity.

Battelle will contribute preclinical research and development services to the venture, including infectious-disease model development and product-safety and -efficacy evaluations. These services will help the facility gain licensure for new vaccines and therapeutics from the US Food and Drug Administration. In addition, Battelle will provide senior leadership and support for project management to 21CB’s advisory board.

IBM will create the support infrastructure for the initiative’s manufacturing operations by providing information technology such as its POWER7 systems. IBM intends to build an infrastructure that accommodates high volumes of data and scales quickly to adapt to changing demand.

As part of a planned consortium of biopharmaceutical companies, Merck will offer drug-development and bioprocess counsel. Merck also will provide senior leadership to 21CB’s advisory board and train facility staff when the initiative begins operations.


In October 2009, GE Healthcare agreed to contribute its manufacturing design and development expertise, production equipment, consumables, and manufacturing processes to 21CB. The company said experience and its disposable manufacturing technologies will enable 21CB to produce vaccines rapidly and flexibly for the US government’s biosecurity needs. The new facility will be designed to produce several vaccines simultaneously and to enable operators to accomplish product changeovers quickly during emergencies.

“With this powerful coalition of partners, we will finally address a critical gap in the nation’s defenses against bioterrorism and infectious diseases,” said Robert J. Cindrich, UPMC’s chief legal counsel and chairman of the initiative, in a press release. “Through this collaboration, we are poised to deliver the urgently needed advances in vaccine development and manufacturing as recently called for by President Obama in his State of the Union address.”

UPMC and its partners plan to compete for government funding to build the vaccine facility, and UPMC would contribute private funding to the project through 21CB. The university proposes to own and operate the facility as a public–private partnership under the direction of the federal government to maintain the plant’s focus on national health priorities. UPMC estimates that the initiative would create 1000 jobs directly, create as many as 6000 jobs indirectly, and increase the nation’s pool of scientists and engineers.