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Vaccine production facility to bring jobs, investment to RTP

Posted August 10, 2010

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— Gov. Bev Perdue announced a new tenant for Durham County's Research Triangle Park Tuesday morning.

Medicago, Inc., a publicly traded company based in Quebec, Canada, will open a vaccine production facility in the park, creating about 85 jobs and investing more than $32 million, the governor's office said in a statement.

Medicago USA is developing vaccines for humans using virus-like-particles isolated from plant leaves. Those particles closely resemble a virus, allowing them to be recognized readily by the immune system, yet they are completely non-infectious and unable to replicate, making for a very safe vaccine. The company is working, with a $21 million grant from the  Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), on a vaccine for H1N1 and seasonal flu using leaves from the tobacco plant.

“Bringing jobs to North Carolina is my No. 1 priority, and part of that mission is seeking out innovative businesses to increase our workforce opportunities,” the governor said. “This exciting project represents the best of the biotechnology sector: creating jobs that use new technology to transform a traditional North Carolina product – tobacco – into vaccines for H1N1 and other dangerous flu viruses.”

The company will build a 90,000-square-foot plant with an investment of $7.5 million. Alexandria Real Estate Equities, a firm focuses on the life science industry, is investing $13.5 million in the project.

The company also received a $128,000 grant from the One North Carolina Fund, which provides government financial assistance to attract business projects and create new jobs in the state. Companies receive no money up front and must meet job creation and investment performance standards to qualify for grant funds.

The RTP facility is to intended to demonstrate Medicago’s ability to scale up and produce 10 million doses a month for influenza vaccines.

The lead vaccine for Medicago, called H5N1, is still involved in clinical trials.

According to the company, its technology enables development of a vaccine for testing “in about a month” after the genetics of a pandemic strain have been identified.

“This production time frame has the potential to allow vaccination of the population before the first wave of a pandemic strikes and to supply large volumes of vaccine antigens to the world market,” according to company statements.

Medicago said the facility could be expanded in the future.

"We are thrilled to be awarded such significant funding from DARPA for the development of a state-of-the-art plant-based VLP vaccine capability in the U.S.A. as it further validates the growing and strategic interest in our rapid and cost-effective vaccine technology," Chief Executive Officer Andy Sheldon said in a statement.

The average annual wage for the jobs at Medicago USA will be $50,229, not including benefits. The Durham County average annual wage is $57,772.

18 Comments

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  • colliedave Aug 10, 2010

    Cool- now that WHO announced that the H1N1 pandemic is OVER- they can produce billions of vaccine doses that nobody is gonna use!!! bobbruck

    yep. only the goberment can give a grant to create a vacine against a disease that has peaked.

  • simplelogic Aug 10, 2010

    JustaName, the Pfizer plant is laying off people because after the acquisition of Wyeth they decided to consolidate their vaccine R&D at other sites and cut back on departments that support R&D. Manufacturing is still going strong (so far). This move is not related at all to the current economic situation; it was a business decision by Pfizer. Vaccines made in Sanford have nothing to do with flu - the specialty there is invasive pneumococcal and meningicoccal disease.

  • Stonewall Brigade Aug 10, 2010

    "Stonewall Brigade, Apparently you misunderstood. The Pfizer plant is a vaccine plant as well. If they can't make enough vaccines to keep their people, how is one in Durham going to be any different?"

    New technology that uses tobacco instead of eggs to produce vaccines, plus significant federal funding, must signal some competitive advantages that distinguishes this firm's drug discovery talensts from the competitors.

  • auklet8718 Aug 10, 2010

    Those are good wages for someone needing a job. No doubt about that. They are a bit lower than the average for RTP. Even on entry level jobs. The only jobs at our plant here that are under that range are entry level no technical jobs like basic mechanics. And those are very close to $55k. The majority of RTP jobs exceed $75k for entry level technical jobs. My concern would be since they are coming in with a VERY modest budget they may not be able to stick around long. You need a few hundred million dollars to make a decent go for a biotech operation. Even a small one. From how the story reads they are coming in WAY too low on everything. I wish them luck though. We need more employers in RTP. But more than anything we need more that have the means to stay longer than a couple of years.

  • JustAName Aug 10, 2010

    Stonewall Brigade,
    Apparently you misunderstood. The Pfizer plant is a vaccine plant as well. If they can't make enough vaccines to keep their people, how is one in Durham going to be any different?

  • CestLaVie Aug 10, 2010

    "This production time frame has the potential to allow vaccination of the population before the first wave of a pandemic strikes..." Yessirreee. Step right up & get your vaccine before there's even a possibility you'll need it!!

    Ain't it great, folks? We'll have our very own, local company as a player in the world market of WHO & CDC's fraudulent & outright lies as to what they think everybody needs!!!! So not only can our taxpayer dollars to the Feds be completely wasted on millions & millions of doses of vaccine not needed & will be tossed once the trumped-up pandemic somehow doesn't materialize, we can throw our NC taxpayer dollars towards the funding of this whole charade too. Whooppeee.

  • Stonewall Brigade Aug 10, 2010

    "Unfortunately, there is a Pfizer plant down near Sanford that is laying off people. A vaccine plant might not be able to sustain the jobs."

    And fortunatly, there is a new company headed to the RTP that is hiring 85 people, which might enable laid off people from Pfizer's Sanford plant to get another good job. Once again, it sounds like a winner with this good news.

  • Stonewall Brigade Aug 10, 2010

    "more below average wages for the area with more state money. Good job Bev, 85 will put a meaningful dent in it."

    What is the starting wage for someone in this area with a high school or 2-year biotech community college degree? Or even a 4-year college degree in biology? It is BELOW the starting salary for this new company! Again, it sounds like GOOD NEWS for 85 new jobs coming to the area. I ask you, cynic chevybelair57sd, how many jobs have YOU created for people here in NC?

  • Stonewall Brigade Aug 10, 2010

    "Hope this investment by the state is more successful than the investment in the now closing Dell plant in Forsythe County.

    We can't afford too many failures like the Dell Plant in Forsythe County."

    Dell has twice extended it's stay in the Forsyth County building, now well into 2011. It is no longer certain that Dell is leaving the state, and, the firm has even repaid the state and the couty all of it's financial incentives. Sounds like a good deal thus far.

  • cwood3 Aug 10, 2010

    Inventor-this is a national problem with unused-underused facilities.
    Look at the big box stores that abandon huge stores only to build a new one a mile down the road. The old eyesore is left for the homeless or rats and snakes to inhabit.

    RTP is looking a little ragged. All of Eastern NC is looking a little ragged with all the closed textile and tobacco plants.

    The Sanford plant laying off-do they make flu vaccine?? I know they made the H1N1 which 30M doses were pitched. Gov't over reaction -again!!

    Maybe someday-when our eceonomy rebounds some, they old buidings can be rehabed into useable space-or leveled for new facilities to be built.

    I hope this company makes it in RTP. WE do need some good new blood in RTP.

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