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Health Team

Holly Springs Novartis plant first maker of revolutionary new flu vaccine

Posted September 24, 2014 5:45 p.m. EDT
Updated September 24, 2014 6:11 p.m. EDT

— Pharmaceutical maker Novartis on Wednesday celebrated the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's licensing and first shipments of a new flu vaccine that the company says could drastically help with reducing a potential pandemic.

The company's Holly Springs plant is the first facility in the United States that can manufacture the drug known as Flucelvax, a revolutionary cell-culture based vaccine harvested from a dog's kidney.

Traditionally, the flu vaccine has been derived from a virus grown slowly in chicken eggs. In the event of a pandemic or serious flu season, the slow pace of production could mean a shortage of the traditional vaccine.

With cell culture technology, the manufacturing process does not need advance planning, and it can be rapidly expanded to produce new vaccines.

In the event of a flu pandemic, researchers can mass-produce 150 million doses of the drug within six months, says Novartis' president of vaccines for the U.S., Brent MacGregor.

"There's always the risk in the event of a pandemic that the egg supply could be compromised," MacGregor said. "What we deal with, instead, are frozen cell culture stocks, and they're readily available for rapid initiation of production."

MacGregor says there is no discernable difference in the effects of Flucelvax and the traditional vaccine. The only difference patients will notice is that there will be a steadier, more reliable supply of flu vaccine, should it be needed.

That's good news, said Rep. Renee Ellmers, who, along with Gov. Pat McCrory, was part of Novartis' celebration Wednesday.

"Right now, we have the threat of Ebola, some of the other flu issues that are happening now with our children, and we have to get ahead of that," the second-term congresswoman and former registered nurse said.

"Prevention will save lives and also save taxpayer dollars in health care," McCrory added. "Therefore, it's a win-win for everyone."