British drug maker GlaxoSmithKline is establishing a vaccine research center in Rockville that it expects will bring 600 jobs to the state.
The site will join others in Belgium and Italy as one of the company's three hubs for vaccine research and development.
GlaxoSmithKline chose the Rockville site, where it is taking over a vacant but state-of-the-art lab space, because it's close to the company's partners in vaccine development, including the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, with which it is collaborating on a leading vaccine candidate for the Ebola virus, a company spokesman said.
The decision is the latest to bolster Maryland as a center for vaccine research. Emergent BioSolutions is expanding its Baltimore manufacturing facility while it works on contracts to manufacture flu vaccines as well as a booster shot for GlaxoSmithKline's Ebola vaccine. Other vaccine research is continuing at Fort Detrick, Johns Hopkins Medicine and the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and at Maryland companies such as MedImmune.
"This is huge," said Philip D. Schiff, CEO of the Tech Council of Maryland. "It validates the importance of the Maryland biotech cluster … and the special, unique circumstances and assets we have for vaccine development."
Gov. Larry Hogan said in a statement that he is "proud that a world-class pharmaceutical company like GSK has chosen to grow its U.S. operations in Maryland."
The new center comes as a result of a complex transaction that GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis completed last month in which GlaxoSmithKline acquired Novartis' vaccine business. Activity at GlaxoSmithKline vaccine research labs in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania will be consolidated at the new facility, company spokeswoman Melinda Stubee said.
The facility is the former home of Human Genome Sciences, which GlaxoSmithKline acquired for $3 billion in 2012. About 400 people still work in manufacturing on the site, Stubee said.
Once the vaccine work moves into the facility's labs, the company expects the workforce there to reach about 1,000 by next year, Stubee said. The company plans to offer employees already working on vaccine research elsewhere the opportunity to relocate to Rockville, so it's not clear yet how many of those jobs will be new hires, she said.
Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett met with company executives and is interested in doing "whatever we can" to help with the move, said Sally Sternbach, acting director of Montgomery's department of economic development. The firm has not asked the county for any specific types of assistance, she said.
State economic development officials said talks about any incentives the state may offer the company haven't begun.
The life sciences industry employed more than 35,000 people in Maryland's private sector and generated nearly $17 billion in economic activity as of 2013, according to the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development. The addition of GlaxoSmithKline brings a heavyweight into that mix — it is one of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies, with $36 billion in revenue in 2014.
"They're coming into an ecosystem around vaccines that already exists, and we're just delighted to have a 900-pound gorilla join us," Sternbach said.