New neighbor, new biopharmeceutical technology; Protein Sciences Corp. will manufacture cutting edge Flublok vaccine at former Pfizer Campus
BY CHERYL SLAVIN
This past November marks the year anniversary since Protein Sciences Corp., a Connecticut based biopharmaceutical company, signed its lease with Pfizer for the use of two buildings at the Pfizer complex in Pearl River. Protein Sciences has been hard at work since then to ready the facility for the 2014-2015 manufacture of its cutting edge new influenza vaccine, Flublok.
Founded about 30 years ago, Protein Sciences developed bio-technology that could produce only the active protein necessary for the influenza vaccine without growing the pathogen itself. The resulting Flublok is the only FDA-approved vaccine which currently contains no egg products, no live flu virus, no formaldehyde, no antibiotics, no thimerosal (mercury derivative) and no latex. These ingredients are what many voices from the growing anti-vaccine movement point to as reasons to avoid the flu vaccine. Flublok also contains three times the active ingredient as is found in standard vaccines and it is manufactured each year using current circulating influenza proteins.
“By being so pure Flublok actually addresses the many concerns that have been voiced by anti-vaccine activists,” asserts Rachael Fleberbaum, director of Corporate Communications for Protein Sciences, “It makes the idea of vaccination less threatening to people who might previously have objected to it.”
Protein Sciences will provide Flublok to any physician who requests it for a patient, especially those with egg or other allergies. The company has also just entered into an agreement with Price Choppers to make the vaccine available through its many outlets; customers need only give advance notice to the Price Chopper pharmacist in order to obtain it.
“So far our vaccine has been very well received,” Fleberbaum continues. “Over 10 percent of all hospitals nationally use it to vaccinate their employees. Now, with the increased manufacturing ability our Pearl River facility will bring, we will start to market more to private medical practices.”
Protein Sciences began to seek expansion sites at an opportune time for Rockland County. As a result of its downsizing, Pfizer had space available just as Protein Sciences’ needs began to grow. The result was a leasing opportunity that benefited both parties.
“We were looking for a pharmaceutical facility that was compatible with our need for a larger manufacturing space,” explains Fleberbaum. “The buildings at the Pfizer campus had already been used for vaccine production, so it worked out very well. Currently we have about 30 employees at the Pearl River location who are working at retrofitting the space and preparing it for its FDA process validation.”
Protein Sciences expects to have its Pearl River site fully approved and ready to produce Flublok for the 2014-2015 flu season. Currently the company produces about 150,000 doses of Flublok at its Connecticut facility. It expects to increase that amount to 2.5 million doses produced at the Pfizer campus. As its manufacturing needs continue to grow, Protein Sciences will continue to hire new employees. The company projects that it will hire a maximum of about 150 people, a welcome influx of skilled jobs into the Rockland community. Already, many of the 30 employees are former Pfizer staff who had been laid off as a result of the downsizing.
The Pfizer facility is an especially fitting site for the manufacture of a new vaccine developed with cutting edge technology. It was at this same site in 1948, when the plant was known as Lederle Labs, that Dr. Hilary Koprowski developed the first successful oral polio vaccine—and tested it on himself. Though his achievement was later eclipsed by the fame of Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin, his work continued to influence the development of vaccine technology for years. He was a prominent force, for instance, behind the production of a more highly effective vaccine for rabies—a vaccine which Protein Sciences also produces today using its protein-based technology.
Moreover, as Felberbaum pointed out, this week (December 8—14) is the CDC’s National Influenza Vaccination Week, a good time to remember that it’s not too late to get your flu vaccine. In fact, since flu season peaks in January, it is better to vaccinate in November or December since it becomes less effective after about four months. Among other places, the Rockland County Department of Health is offering weekly flu vaccination clinics, and can provide Flublok upon request. Interested parties must call ahead for an appointment.
Flublok has been FDA approved for all adults ages 18 to 49. The company has submitted its documentation for FDA approval for adults over 50, and expects approval prior to the 2014-2015 season. For more information on Flublok, or to inquire about hiring at the Pearl River facility, visit the websites at /www.proteinsciences.com or www.flublok.com.