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Frederick to get plant for anthrax vaccine


The nation's sole licensed producer of anthrax vaccine will open a plant in Frederick, a potential $100 million facility that adds to Maryland's growing strength in vaccine research and production.

Officials of Emergent BioLogics Inc. -- a unit of newly created parent Emergent BioSolutions of Gaithersburg -- said yesterday that the plant will employ 100 workers in its first phase and eventually as many as 300 to produce BioThrax, the only anthrax vaccine approved for use in the United States. Maryland is providing as much as $10 million in incentives.

Fuad El-Hibri, Emergent BioLogics' chief executive officer, said the 150,000-square-foot plant would greatly increase production capacity for the vaccine, for which demand has soared since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and subsequent anthrax attacks.

Currently, the vaccine is made only at sister company BioPort Corp.'s smaller plant in Michigan, which at under 10,000 square feet can make only a fraction of the 60 million to 80 million doses a year the company is aiming for, El-Hibri said. The company will make about 4 million doses of BioThrax this year and 8 million doses in the next two or three years, and is "selling whatever we make," El-Hibri said.

Emergent BioLogics is buying a building in an industrial park south of Frederick and has completed the construction required to convert it to a vaccine plant. It plans to start hiring workers immediately to begin installing equipment, with completion expected in 18 months to two years, El-Hibri said.

Besides the manufacturing plant, Emergent BioLogics might eventually open a pilot plant in Frederick to test and develop new products, El-Hibri said. The company is working on two new botulism vaccines, and vaccines to prevent the sexually transmitted disease chlamydia; the intestinal disease shigellosis; and pylori bacteria, which can cause stomach cancer.

El-Hibri was optimistic about sales of anthrax vaccine despite his company's failure to win the bulk of a new federal contract. On Nov. 4, the government said it would buy 75 million doses of a new-generation anthrax vaccine from VaxGen Inc., based in Brisbane, Calif., which is still pursuing a Food and Drug Administration license for its product.

The $877.5 million contract was the first awarded under the Project Bioshield program to develop and stockpile antidotes to biological and chemical weapons. The government agreed to include a minimum of 5 million doses of Emergent's vaccine in the national stockpile.

According to El-Hibri, Emergent BioLogics considered 10 states in its search for a site for the new factory. But the company "found that Maryland was the most aggressive state," and offered the best package of incentives to land the plant, he said.

The Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development will provide a $2.5 million conditional loan for acquisition of the property, up to $7.5 million in loan guarantees and a $250,000 work-force training grant.

The $2.5 million loan will be forgiven in increments as the company achieves employment milestones, El-Hibri said.

Emergent BioLogics' plant will add to the "significant concentration" of nearly two dozen companies in the state involved with vaccine development, said C. Robert Eaton, president of MDBio Inc., a nonprofit corporation that works to help commercialize biotechnology in the state.

"You have a lot of government-backed vaccine development here. Naturally, companies look at this area to cluster in," he said.

DBED Secretary Aris Melissaratos said that one of his goals has been "to make Maryland the vaccine capital of the world." The presence of the U.S. Army biodefense research center at Fort Detrick, and the concentration of other vaccine companies -- including a MedImmune Inc. vaccine facility that's also in Frederick -- are helping to create a critical mass to lure more companies, Melissaratos said.

Emergent BioSolutions also owns Antex BioLogics, a Frederick firm that specializes in vaccine research and development.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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