An open house at GSK’s plant in Pennsylvania, US gave the world its first glimpse of the facility that the firm hopes will become the global hub of its vaccine packaging and filling business.
Operations at the 650,000 sq ft Marietta plant, which are due to begin in April, will initially focus on GlaxoSmithKline’s (GSK) Energix B hepatitis B vaccine subject to approval by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Specifically, the facility will receive shipments of filled Energix B syringes from GSK’s plant in Rixensart, Belgium to which plunger rods and laser printed labels will be added in a fully automated process, before final packaging takes place.
GSK bought the Marietta site in 2005 for $14m from US drug major Wyeth, which had been struggling to maintain it as a going concern and downsizing its workforce since 2002.
Having completed the acquisition, GSK set about spending more than $300m to transform the plant into a state of the art development, production and packaging campus complete with sophisticated freeze-drying technology.
The facility forms the centrepiece of GSK’s plans for its vaccines business which, at present, includes products like the anti-rotavirus agent Rotarix and Fluarix for seasonal influenza and generates around $4bn a year.
Other steps in GSK’s expansion plans include gaining US clearance for its cervical cancer vaccine Cervarix and a near doubling its portfolio of approved products, to 21 vaccines, over the next four to five years.
Peter Lammers, GSK’s VP of vaccines told the Philadelphia Inquirer, that investing in the Marietta facility, which will handle all US vaccines packaging and distribution operations, had been a key step in expanding the firm’s US business.
By 2010 when the plant is expected to be fully operational with a workforce of 250 employees, GSK will begin production operations focusing on the aseptic preparation of viral antigens, vaccine formulation and freeze drying.
The UK based drug major plans to make mumps, measles, rubella and varicella vaccines as well as several of the paediatric vaccine candidates in its pipeline, should they go on to receive US approval.
The unit is also intended to provide rapid-response production capacity for influenza virus vaccine, using the cell culture methods that it gained through the purchase of former development partner Corixa in 2005.