Novartis's Influenza Vaccine Program

The global head of technical operations at Novartis talks about new technologies for vaccine development and manufacturing.
Jan 02, 2011
By BioPharm International Editors
Volume 2011 Supplement, Issue 1

Novartis recently built a plant for cell-based manufacture of influenza vaccine in Holly Springs, North Carolina. In this interview, Matthew Stober, global head of technical operations for Novartis, talks about the company's plans for the new facility and new technologies for vaccine development and manufacturing.

Q: Novartis recently built a plant for cell-based manufacture of influenza vaccine in Holly Springs, North Carolina. What will be produced at the facility?

Stober: Novartis opened its Holly Springs, North Carolina facility in November 2009 in collaboration with the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The opening of the Holly Springs manufacturing facility is part of our continued commitment to address urgent healthcare needs for our patients.

The facility has been designed and constructed with the support of the US government to produce seasonal flu cell-culture vaccine, pre-pandemic [H5N1] and pandemic [H1N1] influenza vaccine. The facility will be ready to respond to an influenza pandemic as early as 2011 if licensed in an emergency. The plant is expected to be running at full scale and approved for commercial production in 2013. Additionally, the site will have a fill–finish facility capable of producing both flu and non-flu products.

Q: Does Novartis also have an egg-based manufacturing program? If not, why not? If so, what are the challenges/limitations of producing vaccine in eggs? Are those challenges/limitations alleviated in cell-based systems? Are there challenges inherent in cell-based manufacture that are not challenges in egg-based systems?

Stober: Yes, Novartis uses both egg and cell-culture technology to produce vaccines in order to provide the greatest amount of vaccine. While egg-based technology is still the most widely used, cell-culture manufacturing offers several advantages over traditional egg-based manufacturing, such as the ability to more rapidly respond to time-critical situations, since there is no need for chicken eggs. Other advantages include more rapid and scalable manufacturing, enhanced consistency and reliability, and cell-culture-derived vaccines can be administered to patients who are allergic to eggs.

Q: Please give me a sense of the relative yields of egg- versus cell-based systems.

Stober: Novartis sets high standards for all its products and aims to achieve the highest yield possible using both egg-based and cell-based technologies. As demonstrated from last year's A(H1N1) pandemic, yields are a biological process and cannot always be guaranteed. Producing high enough yields was one of the main challenges in developing the H1N1 vaccine because the volume of vaccine produced depends on how well the virus can replicate. However, cultivating viruses using a cell line offers the possibility of a more robust virus production and seed-strain development that more closely matches circulating viruses, which could potentially translate into a more immunogenic and effective response.

Q: Please give me a sense of the start-up times for egg- versus cell-based paradigms. Scale-up??

Stober: A major advantage of using next-generation influenza manufacturing where eggs are no longer used is that the lead time to order and take delivery of eggs is eliminated. The Novartis proprietary cell line also allows for manufacturing flexibility. Because the lead time is eliminated, cell-culture-derived influenza vaccine can be produced more quickly and efficiently in emergency situations such as pandemics. For example, Novartis was able to produce the first monobulk vaccine for the A(H1N1) pandemic in only 60 days.

Q: How do you purify your cell-based vaccines? How does this compare with egg-based purification paradigms?

Stober: The Novartis cell-derived influenza vaccines are purified in a way that is similar to that used for egg- based vaccines, though there are additional purification steps. For example, host-cell proteins are removed during purification. In egg-based vaccines, some egg proteins remain in the vaccine.

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