Billion-dollar deal brings new vaccine plant to Melbourne

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Billion-dollar deal brings new vaccine plant to Melbourne.

By Rob Harris and Sumeyya Ilanbey

Melbourne will become home to a new high-tech vaccine manufacturing plant in a billion-dollar deal to secure the nation’s long-term supply of critical health products including influenza vaccines and life-saving antivenoms.

The complex at Tullamarine will be the largest influenza vaccine manufacturing facility in the southern hemisphere, allowing Australia to rapidly respond to flu outbreaks and pandemics.

The federal government will sign a $1 billion agreement with Seqirus, the influenza vaccines arm of Australian biotech giant CSL, to secure supply until 2036 of medical products that would otherwise need to be sourced from overseas.

Seqirus will invest $800 million to create the highly specialised production facility at Melbourne Airport Business Park, which is expected to be operational by 2026.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison will on Monday visit CSL’s Broadmeadows facility, which last week began manufacturing millions of vials of one of the most promising coronavirus vaccines.

Before his first trip to Melbourne since February, Mr Morrison said the new complex would cement Australia’s long-term sovereign medical capabilities, allowing the nation to develop vaccines when it needed them.

“Keeping Australians safe is my number one priority and while we are rightly focused on both the health and economic challenges of COVID-19, we must also guard against future threats,” he said.

“Just as major defence equipment must be ordered well in advance, this is an investment in our national health security against future pandemics.”

He will meet face-to-face with Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews for the first time since March to discuss the state’s recovery from its COVID-19 lockdown and the fast-tracking of major infrastructure projects such as the Melbourne Airport rail link to potentially begin within months.

Work on the vaccine facility, which will replace Seqirus’ manufacturing plant in Parkville, is expected to create about 520 building and construction jobs.

The Parkville plant was built more than 60 years ago and cannot be expanded or modified to accommodate new technologies and production requirements.

The new site will manufacture product for domestic and export markets and support more than 1000 science, technology, engineering and mathematics jobs in Victoria with a supply chain worth more than $300 million annually.

CSL chief executive Paul Perreault said the plant would be an important addition to the company’s global influenza manufacturing supply chain, incorporating the technology platform used in its Holly Springs, North Carolina, facility.

“Cell-based influenza vaccine technology offers many advantages over the existing process, including being more scalable and offering faster production – particularly important in the case of
influenza pandemics,” he said.

Seqirus is the only company making influenza and Q fever vaccines in Australia, and the only company in the world making life-saving antivenom products covering 11 Australian creatures including tiger snakes, black and brown snakes, taipans, box jellyfish and funnel web spiders.

The Victorian government will contribute to the project through the procurement of suitable land, which will reinforce the state’s already globally significant medical research and biotechnology community.

The facility will use innovative cell-based technology to produce influenza vaccines for use in both influenza pandemic and seasonal vaccination programs. It will be the only cell-based influenza vaccine manufacturing facility in the southern hemisphere.

Cell-based technology allows faster vaccine production in the event of an influenza pandemic. Influenza and other vaccines are currently manufactured by inoculating specially bred chicken eggs with live virus. The virus is then harvested from the eggs and turned into a vaccine. Cell-based vaccines, where the virus is grown in a bioreactor, are more effective and are produced up to three times faster and in larger amounts.

Victorian Industry Support and Recovery Minister Martin Pakula said the state government was proud to have provided significant support to the facility.

“This investment is a significant coup for Victoria. It positions the state as a global leader in cell-based influenza vaccine production and further boosts our capabilities in R&D, commercialisation and advanced manufacturing,” he said.

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