Holly Springs plant on short-list to produce anti-Ebola drug

Federal officials have requested three super labs, including a Novartis vaccine facility in Holly Springs, to submit plans for producing an anti-Ebola drug as the United States scrambles to develop vaccines and treatment candidates for the Ebola virus disease.

Friday’s request from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, sets a Nov. 10 deadline for submission of plans to produce ZMapp, an experimental drug that ran out of stock in August after being administered to several medical workers who were infected with the virus in West Africa.

Novartis is evaluating BARDA’s task order and declined further comment. In April, the Swiss drug maker announced it was accepting bids for its influenza business, including the Holly Springs vaccine plant, as part of a sell-off of under-performing business unites.

The $1 billion advanced lab spans 470,000 square feet and about half its cost was covered by federal funding from BARDA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Novartis plant employs 550 people and received federal approval in June to make commercial supplies of Flucelvax, a flu vaccine made from cell cultures instead of chicken eggs. The plant also produces pandemic influenza vaccines for the national stockpile.

ZMapp is developed from tobacco plants but can also be grown from other cells. In addition to Novartis, BARDA is also soliciting labs operated by Texas A&M Health Science Center and GlaxoSmithKline, and another by Emergent Biosolutions in Baltimore, Reuters reported.

The three labs are called Centers for Innovation in Advanced Development and Manufacturing and were developed with federal funding.