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Protein Sciences Invests in Flu Vaccine Facility

the Hartford Courant Dan Haar Column [the Hartford Courant]

From Hartford Courant (CT) (December 4, 2012)

Dec. 04--Protein Sciences Corp., the Meriden-based drug research and development firm with a long and colorful history in Connecticut, is investing millions of dollars in a new manufacturing facility for its flu vaccine -- in Rockland County, N.Y.

The company, with its roots in genetic research, has worked for years on its revolutionary flu vaccine, Flublok, and is awaiting final federal approval in the coming weeks, perhaps next month. Many in Connecticut had hoped the company would set up manufacturing lines in its home state.

That still might happen, the Protein Sciences executive chairman said Monday. But in Pearl River, N.Y., the privately owned firm found a ready-to-go pharmaceutical factory shuttered by Pfizer after the drug giant bought Wyeth three years ago.

Protein Sciences said it will hire 50 people initially in the former Wyeth plant in Pearl River, just north of the New Jersey state line, and could expand to 150 within a decade -- leading to loud celebration among New York economic development people. The company, founded in West Haven in 1983, will be the first outside tenant in the sprawling, 550-acre campus with 2.8 million square feet -- about 60 percent of which Pfizer still occupies.

"The Hudson Valley is continuing to solidify its reputation as the place to be for biopharmaceutucal companies that are looking to invest and expand," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a written release.

Connecticut cynics who say this is another example of state policy causing a firm to flee should hold their criticism. Protein Sciences expects Flublok to be a blockbuster, or at least it wants to be ready, and Dan Adams, executive chairman and former CEO, said the company hopes to need more factory capacity as soon as two or three years from now.

So it’s working with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and his economic development people.

"We are in discussions with the commissioner [Catherine Smith] and I’ve had a number of contacts with the governor. We would like to expand in Connecticut and we’re just working with the government to see how that can happen," Adams said. "If Flublok is successful we’re going to need much bigger manufacturing capacity than we have in Pearl River."

Since 2009, when it signed a $147 million federal research contract, the company has grown from 40 people in one building to 100 in two buildings. Other work clicked as well in Protein Sciences’ business with biotech firms around the world using the company’s proprietary platform based on DNA research.

"We’ve had a lot of success here, so certainly we would seriously consider putting that in Connecticut," Adams said of the next manufacturing plant.

The folks in Rockland County will have something to say about that. If Flublok takes off, these two states and others will launch an all-out bidding war.

The Pearl River site had about 3,500 people when Pfizer acquired Wyeth in late 2009, and is down to about 2,000 now, said Michael DiTullo, president and CEO of the Rockland Economic Development Corp. Protein Sciences has leased two buildings totaling 83,000 square feet, and the campus has a million square feet or more remaining, much of it outfitted for labs.

"That’s one of the great competitive advantages of the site. It’s 20 minutes from the George Washington Bridge," DiTullo said. "We’re aggressively marketing the site to life sciences and biotech firms throughout the world."

As for finding employees, almost all of Protein Sciences’ hires have been laid-off former Pfizer/Wyeth people, Adams said, adding, "The layoffs are continuing to happen at Pearl River."

The way Protein Sciences ended up in the Pearl River expansion says a lot about corporate moves. The site wasn’t even on the company’s short list last spring, Adams said, when the company hired a new vice president of manufacturing, Mireli W. Fino, a former 20-year Wyeth veteran who worked in Pearl River. Others from the site joined the company, and Protein Sciences took a closer look at locating there.

"There is no biologics manufacturing facility in the state of Connecticut," Adams said. He wouldn’t say the price the company paid for the lease, but it amounts to free use of millions of dollars worth of equipment.

"It means we can move forward in the next flu season. Building from scratch there’s no way we could have done that."

New York State offered $2 million in tax credits to Protein Sciences, which must create 100 jobs by 2017 and maintain them at least until 2023.

The company’s vaccines are based on recombinant technology, patterned on the DNA in cells, rather than the traditional method using eggs or other proteins. Its selling point is that the vaccines are safer and more exact than traditional versions.

With more than $20 million in annual revenue, a figure that could grow sharply, Protein Sciences can expand using cash flow, Adams said.

Protein Sciences has had other lives, other high hopes, before. It was founded as MicroGeneSys Inc., a company that gained wide recognition in the Connecticut technology community by developing an AIDS drug that reached human trials -- but failed. The company renamed itself Protein Sciences in 1997. In 2008, it agreed to merge into a Maryland firm, but that deal fell through in a very ugly breakup.

The Food and Drug Administration approval of Flublok is not just another chapter. "To me it’s a game-changing product,’ Adams said.


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Posted: December 2012