January 15, 2009

U.S. to produce cell-based flu vaccine

The U.S. government said it has awarded a $487 million contract to Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics for cell-based flu vaccines.

Novartis will be the first U.S. facility to manufacture cell-based vaccines, which can be made faster and in greater quantities than traditional influenza vaccine. The Department of Health and Human Services said the new facility is expected to boost U.S. capacity for pandemic influenza vaccine by at least 25 percent.

Currently, influenza vaccines licensed by the Food and Drug Administration are made in specialized chicken eggs using a process that has changed little over the past five decades.

In place of eggs, cell-based vaccine production uses laboratory-grown cells that are capable of hosting a growing virus. The virus is injected into the cells where it multiplies. The cells' outer walls are then removed, harvested, purified, and inactivated. Cell-based vaccines can be produced in a matter of weeks, much faster than egg-based vaccines, HHS said Thursday.

Novartis and HHS will share the cost of the new cell-based influenza vaccine manufacturing facility in Holly Springs, N.C.,