University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Lead for High-Tech Vaccine Factory

By Heinrichs, Allison M | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, August 22, 2009 | Go to article overview

University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Lead for High-Tech Vaccine Factory


Heinrichs, Allison M, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center is the front-runner for a potential $830 million public-private vaccine development and manufacturing facility the federal government largely would pay for, officials said Friday at a congressional hearing Downtown.

Several locations in Western Pennsylvania are being evaluated for the facility, which could add 1,000 employees to UPMC's payroll. But a spot near the old Pittsburgh airport in Moon is the most attractive location for such a sensitive operation because of its proximity to resources such as the National Guard, said UPMC President and CEO Jeffrey Romoff.

Romoff testified at the hearing called by Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter of Philadelphia, who is seeking ways to better prepare for bioterrorism attacks and emerging infectious diseases, such the H1N1 virus known as swine flu.

The government is considering options to improve its vaccine production capacity, including a vaccine factory, and set aside more than $12 billion to address the issue. If such a factory were found to be the best option, the government would seek competitive bids, Specter said.

"If we are able to, through competitive bidding, land this public- private partnership, with your assistance, here in Pittsburgh, I have no doubt that we'll be able to attract ... other private biotechnology companies to come to Pittsburgh and set up laboratories here," Romoff said.

As many as 70,000 jobs could be created as an indirect result of a UPMC vaccine factory, he said.

The factory would be built to enable researchers, under normal operation, to work on vaccines for several diseases in perhaps eight suites, said Bob Cindrich, UPMC chief legal officer. If an emergency occurred, such as a release of anthrax, every suite would be diverted to making anthrax vaccines in "surge production," he said.

"In industry, the standard way of going about making vaccines is that every vaccine has its own facility," said Dr. Donald Burke, dean of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health and director of Pitt's Center for Vaccine Research. "When a pharmaceutical company is planning to market a new vaccine, they build an entire facility with technology designed around that vaccine.

"Our proposal is a flexible methodology that allows us to make a new vaccine quickly, without having to build a new plant," said Burke, who testified at the hearing.

The UPMC vaccine factory could quickly change its production by using a disposable plastic technology developed by GE Healthcare, said Nigel Darby, vice president for BioTechnologies at GE. …

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