Novavax to lease Gaithersburg space to support flu contract

Vaccine maker Novavax Inc. will lease 74,000 square feet, mostly laboratory and manufacturing space, in Gaithersburg to support its massive federal flu vaccine contract, according to a source with knowledge of the expansion.

The Rockville-based company is set to take on space at 20 and 22 Firstfield Road, the source said. Both of the properties are owned by Alexandria Real Estate Equities Inc. (NYSE: ARE); the former is listed as the headquarters of the shrinking U.S. arm of Austrian biotech Intercell AG.

Novavax (NASDAQ: NVAX) did not return a call for comment. Scheer Partners Inc., a Rockville commercial real estate firm that represents Novavax in the lease negotiations, also declined to comment.

The lease represents another big move for a biotech that was elevated to the big leagues by a lucrative seasonal and pandemic flu contract in March worth as much as $179 million, followed shortly after by the departure of CEO Rahul Singhvi and the appointment of Chairman Stanley Erck as Singhvi’s replacement. Another top executive, senior vice president of business development John Trizzino, left in September.

Novavax’s contract with the Biomedical Advanced Research Authority is split between an initial three-year, $97 million base period that pays for clinical development of its vaccine candidates, and a possible $82 million extension to support manufacturing scale-up and U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval. The initial contract also includes the development of a plan for a manufacturing facility able to produce a minimum 50 million vaccine doses within half a year of the declaration of a flu pandemic.

It’s unclear whether the new Gaithersburg space is directly related to that manufacturing plan. Singhvi said in March the company would probably need to take on additional space simply to accommodate the growth in headcount resulting from the BARDA contract. Also unclear is whether a lease for the new space has been signed yet.

Novavax’s vaccine technology is based on non-infectious virus-like particles, or VLP’s, which prompt the same immune response from the body as an actual virus.


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