Why innovative COVID-19 vaccine maker Novavax calls Montgomery County home

In just the last few years, Novavax has grown dramatically — from 100 employees to nearly 1,600. The biotechnology company, based in Montgomery County, MD, makes a COVID-19 vaccine that is currently available globally, and is undergoing FDA review in the U.S. Unlike some other COVID vaccines, it can be stored at room temperature and is protein-based, just like other vaccines used for decades to protect against HPV, flu and shingles.

The company recently cleared an important step, receiving a positive recommendation from the Food and Drug Administration’s advisory committee, potentially clearing the way for emergency use authorization in the United States.

“We’re a changed company,” Novavax President and CEO Stanley Erck told WTOP.

“This is a transformational time,” he said. “We’ve become a commercial company in the past four or five months. We made our first profit in the first quarter — after 20 years of doing research and building the company.”  Novavax is also developing or supporting development of vaccines for seasonal influenza, including a potential combination with its COVID-19 vaccine; Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV); malaria; and Ebola.

The business’s swift growth meant a need for an innovative, new space to accommodate employees who were previously working in multiple small buildings. The goal, Erck said, was to bring its employees together on a campus and to stay in Gaithersburg, Maryland, where the business began in 1987.

“Once we started this growth process and started thinking about space and how we could keep the company together on a campus, we found this great location,” Erck said.

Partnering with local government

Knowing that these types of projects often face lengthy delays, Novavax collaborated with the state, the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation, and the City of Gaithersburg. “These things can take a long time with permitting, delays and that sort of thing,” Erck said. “We’ve gotten really good cooperation.”

The new campus is home to an 180,000-square-foot, three-floor headquarters. The top floor has offices, and Novavax is putting in quality control labs on the second floor.

Probably most exciting, the company will be able to manufacture on the first floor. “We didn’t have that before,” Erck said. The manufacturing facility will meet the Good Manufacturing Practice regulations set by the FDA, which he said is “crucial to have as we continue to grow.”

The campus spans 14 acres, providing the company the ability to grow and add as many as five or six additional buildings. “That allows us to grow for a long time in one place,” Erck said.

Though Novavax leaders always wanted to stay in Maryland, they did consider locations up and down the East Coast and across the country. “We didn’t want to relocate everybody. But we would have if it were worthwhile. It wasn’t,” Erck said.

Location, location, location

While the pandemic required many of Novavax’s meetings with nearby researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) — as well as with FDA — to occurr via videoconference, geographic proximity is generally helpful, he said. The company collaborates regularly with NIST and NIH, and nothing beats a 20-minute car ride to FDA versus getting on an airplane, Erck said.

Even more important, the Montgomery County location ensures Novavax has access to a great workforce, he said. “We can attract people here. It’s a great place to live, to raise kids — good schools and nice housing opportunities throughout the state. That contributes a lot to having a successful company, being able to recruit the best people.”

To learn more about joining the successful life sciences ecosystem in Montgomery County, connect@thinkmoco.com or go to thinkmoco.com.

Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation (MCEDC): Maryland’s Montgomery County: The Immunology Capital Next to the Nation’s Capital. Home to NIH, FDA, top talent, partnerships and life science success for you.

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