Cary News

Duke, N.C. State and Novartis to team for biodefense

A national biodefense center will be opened in North Carolina to help protect the country against a potential pandemic or bioterrorist attack.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Monday that Duke University and N.C. State University will team up with Novartis at its Holly Springs facility to develop and produce vaccines to quickly respond to chemical and biological threats.

The threats that the nation faces today are constantly evolving, Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Monday. No one knows when or where the next public health crisis will come from.

“It could be a dirty bomb set off in a subway car,” she said. “It could be a naturally occurring super bug that’s resistant to most treatments. Or it could be another new strain of flu that will cause the next pandemic.”

The Holly Springs facility is one of three biodefense centers scheduled to be operational in two to three years. A second biodefense center will be led by Emergent Manufacturing Operations Baltimore in Maryland in collaboration with Michigan State University, Kettering University in Michigan and the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Texas A&M University System will lead a third center collaborating with GlaxoSmithKline Vaccines of Marietta, Pa., Lonza of Houston, Texas, and Kalon Biotherapeutics of College Station, Texas.

Sebelius said all three centers were chosen because of their experience developing or manufacturing medical countermeasures.

In 2010, President Barack Obama said he wanted the country to develop a new plan to respond to bioterrorism threats and attacks.

The federal government will spend about $400 million on the initial contracts. Novartis received a nearly $60 million 4-year contract, which can be renewed for up to 25 years.

Spokeswoman Liz Power said Novartis will retrofit some manufacturing space at the Holly Springs facility and plans a modest expansion of administrative space as part of this program.

In addition to the company’s existing federal pandemic projects, Novartis has committed to manufacture at least 50 million finished doses of pandemic influenza vaccines at the North Carolina facility within four months of a pandemic onset, with the first doses available within 12 weeks.

The Associated Press contributed.