Vaccine production facility to bring jobs, investment to RTP

Posted August 10, 2010 8:41 a.m. EDT
Updated August 10, 2010 10:10 a.m. EDT

— 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.