Friday, August 31, 2007

Novartis Vacaville facility to expand & hire 30 more by end of 2007

Novartis Vacaville facility to expand
East Bay Business Times - August 31, 2007
by Michael Fitzhugh

Novartis AG's Vacaville drug manufacturing plant will break ground within weeks on a 7,000-square-foot expansion, eliminating a big bottleneck in its capacity to make key ingredients for three approved drugs and several still in the company's pipeline.

Sweetening the investment, the company is hammering out an economic-incentive package with the city.

"We'll take whatever action we can to help them be competitive within their own company," said Mike Palombo, Vacaville's economic-development manager.

Palombo is still developing incentives to aid the Novartis plant, which employs about 130 people in Vacaville and is on track to hire 30 more by the end of 2007.

"On a straight dollar-for-dollar basis, we can't compete (with other cities). So we have to do something else to attract them," said Palombo.

Once complete, Palombo's recommendation will be reviewed by city staff members, and then by the city manager. If the city manager concurs, the incentives to be offered to the company will be taken to the Vacaville City Council for to approval.

"They're constantly looking for ways to help us," said Rob Carter, Novartis' Vacaville site head.

While tax breaks for facilities like Novartis' are fairly common in the industry - neighboring Genentech Inc.'s large new plant could gets million of dollars in property tax refunds - Novartis gets no breaks from the city now.

When the 61,000-square-foot plant was built by Chiron in 1994, the hot biotechnology pioneer was in such a hurry to build, it didn't make time to negotiate a favorable package with the city. Novartis acquired the facility in April 2006 when it purchased Chiron.

The Vacaville plant is one of two microbial biopharmaceutical sites run by Novartis and is a mid-sized plant for the industry, said Carter. It uses microbial fermentation to create specialized therapeutic proteins.

The fermentation takes place in a 20,000-liter tank in which microbes are fed carbohydrates and vitamins, and then harvested and purified before being shipped overseas to be freeze-dried and packaged with other drug ingredients into vials distributed to hospitals.

The facility runs two- to three-month "campaigns" during which it makes one drug, and then switches to another for its next campaign. This month, it's producing a protein for a division of Johnson and Johnson which goes into the manufacture of Regranex, a topical gel used to treat diabetic foot ulcers.

It also makes a drug used by BioMimetic Therapeutics Inc. in the treatment of periodontal defects.

Among the trial drugs it manufactures for Novartis is Mycograb, which may help fight hospital infections by making antibiotics more effective, a treatment Carter called "pretty dramatic stuff."

The decision to make Mycograb was "a very significant investment in the site on Novartis' part," said Carter. "As a new owner of the site, it was their endorsement that they were taking the site seriously and that we have some pretty serious growth ahead of us."

Carter has 20 years' experience in the health care manufacturing field, much of it from working for Baxter International Inc., first in Cananda, then in Los Angeles.

Taking advantage of Novartis' career development support, he recently returned from a week-long MIT training program surveying the industry's latest technologies and how they fit together. "That helped me calibrate what we're doing against the bigger picture," Carter said.

Novartis is "very risk-averse," he said. "They treat their people very well, but they also expect me to treat them very well. So the onus is on this team to make sure that we keep their trust."

Novartis Vacaville Manufacturing Facility

Business: Biopharmaceutical manufacturing
Built: 1994
Site head: Rob Carter
Employees: 130
Address: 2010 Cessna Drive, Vacaville 95688
Phone: 707-453-2200 | 925-598-1425

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