Thursday, July 08, 2010

PA Borrows $30M for Vaccine Center

$600 million allocated for Pa. economic projects
Wednesday, July 07, 2010
By Tom Barnes, Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau

HARRISBURG -- An $830 million vaccine-producing "biodefense center," to be built somewhere in Allegheny County, is getting a $30 million boost from a statewide capital construction bill that Gov. Ed Rendell plans to sign today in Pittsburgh.

Legislation for an additional $600 million in borrowing for economic development projects, known as the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, was enacted last week as part of the new state budget for fiscal 2010-11. The bill contains $30 million to help the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center compete with other states to create a vaccine-producing center, which the bill calls a "state-of-the-art biologics manufacturing facility."

Mr. Rendell is coming to the Connelley School today to sign the economic development bill. All of the RACP projects are legitimate uses of state funds and will be matched with private money, he said Tuesday as he signed the new $28 billion state budget for 2010-11.

Rendell spokesman Gary Tuma said the federal biodefense contract involves "development of an on-demand flu vaccine."

"We will be competing with other states," he said. "It will mean quite a few jobs for the region if it comes" to Allegheny County. One possible site is the old Pittsburgh airport terminal.

"It was important for the state to show support for the project and put in some state money," he added.

The $30 million is just a small start for the proposed UPMC biodefense center, which would need $580 million in federal funds plus $250 million from UPMC itself. It would be overseen by the federal departments of Defense and Health and Human Services.

Last summer UPMC made a pitch to a congressional panel to create such a large-scale vaccine production center. Federal officials think the development of such vaccines is a necessary step in defending America against bioweapons attacks by terrorists. The proposed center would have eight vaccine-producing units, with staff and resources to develop vaccines to counter various threats from hazardous bioweapons.

Mr. Specter and U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire said UPMC would have a "unique advantage," since it's one of the nation's largest medical centers and is close to the University of Pittsburgh, which has a Center for Vaccine Research. The center would likely create 1,000 well-paid, high-tech jobs and another 6,000 spinoff jobs.

A number of Allegheny County Democratic legislators are listed as sponsors for the biologics facility, including state Sens. Jim Ferlo, Wayne Fontana and Jay Costa, plus Reps. Jake Wheatley, Dom Costa, Chelsa Wagner, Dan Frankel, Joe Preston, Paul Costa and Harry Readshaw.

"All the projects in the RACP bill that governor will sign today are important and some will create hundreds of high-paying jobs," said Jay Costa. "While the state's $30 million investment pales in comparison to the federal and private investment, these state capital dollars will leverage three to four times of the investment and create new jobs."

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