- Associated Press - Thursday, September 18, 2014

COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) - Gov. Rick Perry and top officials from Texas A&M; University dedicated a new 100,000-square-foot manufacturing plant Thursday that’s intended to have the capacity to produce bulk flu vaccine that can be delivered to as many as 50 million people within four months of a declared pandemic.

The Pandemic Influenza Vaccine Facility is a cornerstone of the College Station school’s growing center to battle contagious diseases and bioterrorism. Officials say the center - dubbed the Texas A&M; Center for Innovation in Advanced Development and Manufacturing - could generate $41 billion in expenditures in Texas over the next 25 years and represents the largest federal investment in Texas since NASA in the 1960s.

“Over the past several months, we have seen powerful reminders of why this facility is being built, how important it is to help in the well-being of people around the world,” Perry said.

“From plagues in western Africa to respiratory ailments affecting thousands of children across the American Midwest, the message is clear that providing true security involves more than just border security. We need to protect people from all types of threats, natural disasters, enemy attacks, viral outbreaks.”

He also warned that “enemy attack and viral outbreak may be one and the same.”

Perry, joined by A&M; Chancellor John Sharp, interim A&M; President Mark Hussey and others, signed a stainless steel beam that’s to be part of the structure. Construction is now about 35 percent complete on the $91 million plant, which is scheduled to be done in about a year.

It should produce vaccines for clinical trials by 2018 and employ several hundred people, according to Brett Giroir, chief executive officer of the Texas A&M; Health Science Center. The four-month turnaround time to deliver influenza vaccine would cut the current time in half, officials have said.

He, too, also pointed to the Ebola outbreak in Africa, persistent respiratory illnesses and threats of terrorist bombs carrying plague.

“What we’re doing here today is standing up to these challenges,” Giroir said, calling the effort a “key and essential element to our nation’s defense.”

The A&M; center is part of a joint partnership with the federal government, other academic institutions and private firms, including biopharmaceutical company GSK. It is one of three such national centers but the only one housed at an academic institution. Others are in Maryland and North Carolina.

Texas has committed $40 million to the nearly $300 million project on the A&M; campus. The federal government is contributing $176 million.

“This facility will help us combat all sorts of threats, helping us quickly develop vaccines to save lives,” Perry said, mentioning the recent 9/11 anniversary. “You can’t put a price tag on this.”

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