Merck Expansion Adds to Vaccine Core
There's a good reason for North Carolina’s young and fast-growing global leadership in vaccine R&D and manufacturing.
These billions of dollars in federal and corporate investment here, all these jobs, underscore the wisdom of the state’s long-term focus on educating and training locals who know how to work in the specialized environment of a pharmaceutical factory .
Ever since Merck & Co. broke ground in 2004 for its vaccine-manufacturing plant in Durham, for example, construction work has continued almost non-stop. And ongoing expansion announcements there affirm the global pharmaceutical company’s appreciation for what North Carolina offers.
Merck’s most recently announced add-on will put about 70,000 square feet more building onto its existing 580,000-square-foot campus in the Treyburn Corporate Park. But there’s also a symbolic triumph not included in those numbers: a lot of blacktop will be added to accommodate the parking needs of all the new employees being hired at the site.
Plant Manager John Wagner said Merck will add about 150 people to the 450 already on board, and this round of construction will put the company’s brick-and-mortar investment so far at about $900 million.
The Merck plant received approval in November 2010 from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to fill and finish Varivax, its pediatric chicken pox vaccine. Plans also call for the facility to produce vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella and for shingles in adults.
Of course, Merck isn't the only company expanding here. There's Medicago's new $42 million vaccine plant. And Novartis. Talecris. Biogen Idec. Novartis just started raising steel on its new pilot plant addition.
Most of the workers in those factories are homegrown. Many are products of excellent community college courses designed with the help of industry. A lot have hands-on training at the unique Biomanufacturing Training and Education Center on the North Carolina State University campus. Still others honed skills at North Carolina Central University's Biomanufacturing Research Institute and Technology Enterprise.
Would it take an oxymoron to say North Carolina's commitment to life-science education is a no-brainer?