BioPort Corp. of Lansing, Mich., yesterday dedicated a 150,000-square-foot facility in Frederick that is designed to produce 100 million anthrax vaccine doses when it becomes fully operational in two years.
Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony for BioPort, which received nearly $13 million in state and local economic incentives to expand in Frederick. The facility will eventually employ up to 400 people, BioPort said in a statement.
The ceremony at BioPort, a subsidiary of privately held Emergent BioSolutions, occurred just weeks after the federal government said it intended to buy 75 million doses of a new, experimental type of anthrax vaccine produced by VaxGen Inc. of California.
The government said it would buy far less -- 5 million doses -- of BioPort's vaccine, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2003.
Analysts and health experts say the federal government opted to stockpile larger quantities of VaxGen's vaccine because it uses the latest manufacturing techniques and is more advanced than BioPort's vaccine, which was developed in the 1950s. VaxGen's vaccine also requires fewer doses.
Nevertheless, BioPort chief executive Robert G. Kramer Sr. said, "There was never a second thought" about opening the Frederick facility, which will be able to produce 10 times more than BioPort's Michigan plant. Also, the company could use the new plant to manufacture several other vaccines it has in development.
Kramer said BioPort hopes to sell vaccines to local authorities and overseas governments. It has already sold an unspecified number of doses to Taiwan and Germany, he said. VaxGen's vaccine has not cleared all regulatory hurdles, and Kramer said the government may want more BioPort doses if VaxGen runs into regulatory delays.
In addition, BioPort officials say federal officials may want more than one anthrax vaccine supplier, in light of the flu vaccine shortage that occurred after one of the two U.S. providers had manufacturing problems.
The Defense Department required soldiers to be immunized with the BioPort vaccine until October, when a federal judge banned the involuntary injections. The lawsuit said the FDA failed to properly follow procedures and contended that some vaccinated soldiers experienced side effects, including fatigue, joint pain and temporary memory loss.
The judge said the ban on involuntary vaccination will remain in place until the FDA reviews the anthrax vaccine properly or until President Bush determines that the normal process must be waived because of emergency circumstances.
BioPort's chairman is Fuad El-Hibri, a Potomac resident with extensive experience in telecommunications and the biotechnology industry. He and his father have had significant involvement with a British provider of anthrax vaccines. El-Hibri became a U.S. citizen in 1999. He was born in Germany and grew up around Europe and the Middle East before attending Stanford and Yale.