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MEDICINE UPMC may consider vaccine production



Published: Sat, February 19, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Facility could be located in suburb of Homestead.

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center may create a vaccine manufacturing plant on the site of an old steel mill, its president said.

The academic medical center has not fully studied the idea, but it would fit into UPMC's goal of commercializing research, UPMC President Jeffrey Romoff told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for its Sunday edition.

"We're talking about everything associated, and one component would be a vaccine production plant," Romoff said. "Another component would be enhancing the science; another component would be contracts related to biosecurity; and another component would be cancer research."

'Neglected diseases'

It will be at least another year for UPMC to complete a feasibility study and talk with state and federal officials about support, said Dr. Arthur Levine, the senior vice chancellor for health sciences and the dean of the University of Pittsburgh medical school.

But Romoff envisions the vaccine plant sitting on an abandoned steel mill site in the Pittsburgh suburb of Homestead.

The plant would be related to the university's Center for Vaccine Research, which will focus on "neglected diseases" such as malaria and drug-resistant tuberculosis, Levine said.

Philanthropies interested

Pharmaceutical companies are less interested in developing these vaccines because they don't see them as profitable, Levine said.

But the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other private philanthropies have expressed interest in funding vaccine development, Levine said. Funding also could come from the federal government, which would support vaccines that protect against biological agents used in terrorism, he said.

The plant also could produce therapeutic vaccines, such as those being developed for some forms of cancer, Levine said.

Dr. Tony Fauci, the National Institutes of Health's top infectious disease official, said it would be unusual for an academic medical center to start an industrial-sized vaccine plant, although Florida A & amp;M University has announced plans to create a $40 million vaccine research institute and production plant in Tallahassee, Fla.

Newcomers to the vaccine production field often underestimate the cost of hiring the professionals needed to sustain the operation and of running a plant that complies with federal regulations, said Dr. Thomas Vernon, a former vice president in Merck & amp; Co.'s vaccine division.

But Levine believes UPMC's idea is legitimate.

"I think there's a rational basis for this," Levine said. "What remains to be seen is whether the money can be raised for such a facility in Pittsburgh."




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