FDA approval adds production capacity to Merck’s Durham County vaccine facility

Sep. 04, 2013 @ 05:57 PM

Merck & Co Inc. got the OK from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to manufacture live virus material that goes into chickenpox and shingles vaccines at its Durham County facility, the company announced Wednesday.

In the long term, the company plans for Durham site to produce bulk and finished product for the chickenpox and other childhood disease vaccines from Merck, according to a news release, and for the shingles vaccines as well.

The company’s operations in Durham County’s Treyburn Corporate Park have been used for fill and finish vaccine operations -- the final stages of vaccine production.

All global bulk supply for New Jersey-based Merck’s vaccines that help prep the body’s defenses for the virus behind chickenpox and shingles has been produced at a facility in West Point, Penn., according to a company news release.

“The licensure of the Durham varicella bulk facility marks a significant milestone for Merck and adds additional manufacturing capabilities to an already strong Merck vaccine network,” said Willie Deese, president of Merck’s manufacturing division, in a prepared statement. “The Durham facility will help us meet the increasing global demand for our quality vaccines that enhance health care for millions around the world.”

The company first broke ground on the Durham site in 2004. In 2010, the company got approval to fill and finish pediatric Varivax vaccines for chickenpox at the site.  Merck now employs about 1,100 people at its Durham site.

Cheznee Johnson, a Merck spokeswoman, said the company’s initial investment in the site was to be $310 million for a fill and finish facility. The company planned to hire about 300 workers.

In 2006, she said the company added another $180 million investment for a second fill and finish facility. Then, in 2009, she said, the company added another $315 million investment for the varicella bulk facility, which was followed by $100 million to expand that project in 2010.

Johnson said the FDA approval will allow the site to have the capabilities to manufacture varicella vaccines from start to finish.

The company’s investments in the Durham facility are one example of its investments in its vaccine manufacturing capabilities, according to the release.

The company also has modernized and expanded vaccine operations at facilities in West Point and in Elkton, Va. The company also built a new facility in Ireland that’s scheduled to be licensed in 2014.