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BIO Visitors Bring Viral Preparedness to Atlanta

North Carolina giveaways show state's growing germ-fighting focus

ATLANTA, May 20 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Representatives of the North Carolina contingent to this week's Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) conference in Atlanta are pressing a point as they press the flesh with thousands of conference participants and residents.

The North Carolina Biotechnology Center is distributing hundreds of containers of hand sanitizers -- two brands, both from North Carolina-based companies. One, Purell, is alcohol-based. The other, Remi-D, is a new FDA-approved product that kills germs without alcohol.

The idea is to help visitors to the conference feel more relaxed about shaking hands while shaking the bushes for business connections on the crowded trade-show floor during this belated flu season. The giveaway, which includes some informal distribution to pedestrians in downtown Atlanta during the week, also high-fives North Carolina's growing reputation as the epicenter of infectious-disease weaponry.

For example, the Old North State is home not only to the companies that make Purell and Remi-D, but also to the North American headquarters of global pharmaceutical titan GlaxoSmithKline.

GSK is one of only two manufacturers in the world that make antiviral flu treatments. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and other health groups note that GSK's Relenza is effective against the 2009 strain of A (H1N1) flu virus, often called swine flu.

Relenza is made at the company's plant in Zebulon, about 25 miles east of its RTP headquarters.

Meanwhile, a history-making, 430,000-square-foot flu-vaccine plant is being built by Swiss drug maker Novartis AG in Holly Springs, about 20 miles southwest of Raleigh.

It's the largest biomanufacturing project under construction in the United States. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has promised $487 million for construction to strengthen the country's capacity to supply vaccines against seasonal flu or global pandemics.

About 45 miles north of the Novartis factory, in Durham, Merck recently dedicated its new $750 million vaccine-manufacturing plant. Merck already operates a biomanufacturing facility in Wilson.

The state's biomanufacturing capabilities extend beyond vaccines and antivirals to include biologics, pharmaceuticals and diagnostics. The complete line-up includes products from more than 50 companies, including Biogen Idec, Novozymes, Pfizer, Talecris, Wyeth and the aforementioned GSK, Novartis and Merck.

"Skilled labor is the engine that drives successful biomanufacturing operations," said Bill Bullock, the Biotechnology Center's vice president of bioscience industrial development. "North Carolina has spent nearly $100 million building and refining that engine. Add to that the fact that we're already home to some of the world's best universities and the world's largest concentration of contract research organizations, and what you have is an incredible environment for bioscience research, development and manufacturing.

"Also, of the top biotech states, North Carolina's cost of doing business is by far the lowest."

North Carolina has invested $1.2 billion in steady bioscience growth during the past decade alone, said E. Norris Tolson, president and CEO of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center.

"Some states aren't so interested in manufacturing. But at times like these, it becomes clear why these science-driven factories are so crucial. It reinforces our deep and longstanding commitment to biotechnology. There's no better place in the world to make medicines.

"Biomanufacturers have found a comfort zone in North Carolina. We're glad of it. And increasingly, the world is becoming glad of it too."

Charlotte-based LifeLogic Products produces Remi-D. Purell is made by QualPak, a privately owned company in Laurinburg, N.C.

The 2009 Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) International Convention is expected to draw between 12,000-15,000 visitors to Atlanta this week. More than 5,000 will come from outside the U.S.

The Biotechnology Center is a private, non-profit corporation supported by the N.C. General Assembly. Its mission is to provide long-term economic and societal benefits to North Carolina by supporting biotechnology research, business, education and strategic policy statewide.

Visit the Biotechnology Center's Web site at

SOURCE North Carolina Biotechnology Center
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