Medicago breaks ground on tobacco leaf vaccine facility

The biotech firm Medicago USA Inc., based in Quebec City, Canada, recently broke ground on a planned 90,000-square-foot facility in Durham, North Carolina, that will make influenza vaccines using tobacco leaves.

The ceremony was attended by North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan and Representative David Price,. Hagan, whose father was raised on a tobacco farm, lauded the firm as an example of business innovation and technology, according to

Medicago’s plant will create 85 jobs and cost $42 million to complete. Part of the cost - $21 million - was paid for by the Defense Advanced Researched Projects Agency, which is part of the Department of Defense, reports. Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc., based in California, will pay $13.5 million. Out of the entire cost of the project, Medicago will invest $7.5 million.

When finished, the facility will house 20,000 square feet of automated greenhouse space and the latest in extraction and purification systems. It is expected to have the capacity to produce 10 million doses of pandemic influenza vaccine every month.

Andy Sheldon, the president and CEO of Medicago, told that the company plans to tap into the $7 billion pandemic and seasonal flu vaccine markets.

“A technology like ours leads well into the future,” Sheldon said, reports.

The facility is scheduled to be completed by the summer of 2011.