BioReliance Corp. has won a contract to manufacture smallpox vaccine for the U.S. military at its new, $24 million Rockville plant, providing the latest example of Maryland's fledgling identity as a place where biotech drugs are discovered and made.
The plant, which quietly began making its first products in June, is at least the second major biotech plant along the Interstate 270 Technology Corridor to begin production in less than a year.
BioReliance initially will provide an undisclosed number of vaccine doses for stockpiling, with the capacity to produce up to several million doses if needed. The vaccine is designed to protect troops in the event of bio-warfare involving smallpox, a disease eradicated worldwide in the 1970s.
The company said it expects to eventually employ up to 75 at the new plant, which adds 58,000 square feet of manufacturing space to the 11,000 it already has in Rockville for drugs involved in early-stage testing. While BioReliance declined to disclose financial terms of the deal, Chief Executive Officer Capers W. McDonald said yesterday that the contract potentially is the company's largest ever.
"We've had multiyear contracts that over five years amounted to $20 million," he said. "This has the potential to be even bigger."
The development comes on the heels of MedImmune Inc.'s December announcement that its $50 million plant in Frederick had gained approval from the Food and Drug Administration. The plant now is making the company's financially successful vaccine against a respiratory virus that affects infants.
In addition, Human Genome Sciences Inc. - which already operates an 80,000-square-foot Rockville manufacturing plant that makes drugs being tested in clinical trials - is building again. The company soon will have 160,000 square feet of manufacturing and quality-control space, some of which will open in October.
Those recent successes may seem modest when compared with the capacity of a single major pharmaceutical company. New Jersey-based Merck & Co. Inc., for example, has 31 plants and 16 distribution centers in 25 countries. And HGS Chief Executive Officer William A. Haseltine, whose company is among those that have received aggressive incentive packages from the state, warns that decisions on where to build manufacturing space are driven purely by analyzing the costs and benefits in a particular location.
"The choice of Maryland is not a choice forever," he said yesterday. "It is a choice based on comparative economics. ... So far, Maryland has been a hospitable environment for us and others."
While figures on the amount of biotech manufacturing space in the state couldn't be obtained, officials estimate that 40 percent of the several hundred biotech companies doing business here are contract manufacturers. Not long ago, a common business-community lament was that the area's success in fostering government and private biotech research has yet to translate into significant manufacturing operations - a driver of jobs and economic impact.
The realization triggered a number of moves designed to foster manufacturing, including the government-sponsored start-up of the Maryland BioCenter. The East Baltimore center was designed to handle the production of biologically engineered drugs and vaccines during the "early stage" testing required to bring a drug to market.
The state also has formed an alliance with Scotland to encourage biotechnology companies in the two regions to strike business relationships, collaborate on research and consider setting up satellite operations on one another's turf before looking elsewhere. Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend is to formalize the agreement Tuesday in Scotland.
State incentive packages for companies including MedImmune and BioReliance were designed to help create a snowball effect of development. Publicly traded BioReliance received a loan from a state fund that will be interest-free if job-creation goals are met. MedImmune got an incentive package that included a similar loan, and the company since has generated profits and a market capitalization of nearly $15 billion.
"This is no longer an industry in its infancy," said Martha Connolly, a biotechnology specialist in the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development. "It's really not even in its adolescence. Companies like MedImmune have shown us we've arrived."