Opening marks a new era for serving public health needs in the Commonwealth, the nation and around the world. 

October 21, 2005 

BOSTON, Mass. - State and national leaders in public health and biomedical research today officially opened a new biologics manufacturing and vaccine filling facility on the campus of the old Boston State Hospital, marking an historic expansion of the Massachusetts Biologic Laboratories (MBL) at the University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS).

"Today is the beginning of an important new era for the MBL, the Medical School and public health efforts both in Massachusetts and around the world," said Donna Ambrosino, MD, director of the laboratories and a professor of pediatrics at the Medical School.  "Through this new facility, we will significantly expand our unique public role in developing biologic products for both common and rare medical conditions. And we'll increase our ability to partner with colleagues at the Medical School and scientists at other public and private institutions to tackle vital public health initiatives."

The MBL is the only publicly owned, non-profit FDA-licensed manufacturer of vaccines and other biologic products in the United States. The laboratory was established in 1894 by the state Board of Health to produce diphtheria antitoxin. Since that time, the MBL's singular focus has been to improve public health through applied research, development and production of biologic products. In 1997, the State Legislature transferred MBL operations from the Department of Public Health to UMass Medical School to "maintain their public purpose, preserving their ability to compete in an increasingly competitive marketplace and to maximize their value to the Commonwealth."

Cutting the ribbon on the new MBL facility marks the culmination of four years of planning and construction. The facility sits on a 15.3-acre section of the former Boston State Hospital property in Mattapan which was transferred to the Medical School in 2002 to facilitate the MBL's expansion and help spur economic development on and around the long-shuttered state hospital campus. The new building is an extension of the MBL's existing facilities on UMMS's nearby Jamaica Plain campus, adjacent to the Arnold Arboretum. Total cost of the project, including the construction, equipping and final fit-out will reach nearly $100 million.

"This great day, and the many important days to come as this facility produces medicine to help people, is a shining example of how the University of Massachusetts contributes to the wellbeing of the Commonwealth," said UMass President Jack M. Wilson, PhD. "From one end of the state to the other, UMass is at the forefront of leveraging science and technology to improve the quality of life for all."

The new MBL facility has a state-of-the-art aseptic filling operation that will fill vials of vaccine and other therapeutics manufactured at the MBL. The building also houses a major new monoclonal antibody manufacturing operation, believed to be the largest public facility of its kind in the country.  Both aseptic filling and monoclonal antibody manufacturing are in short supply in the United States. The new facility will allow MBL to continue to fill its own products as well as offer this limited resource for both private and public needs.

"This facility, and all the efforts of the MBL, is at the heart of the Medical School's mission of public service for the public health," said UMMS Chancellor and Dean Aaron Lazare. "It's no exaggeration to say that millions of people, in the Commonwealth and across the country, live healthier lives because of the MBL," Dr. Lazare said.

Over the years, MBL has introduced into general use vaccines to prevent pertussis, tetanus, diphtheria, and other diseases.  The labs' scientists also pioneered plasma products to protect infants and toddlers from serious infectious diseases. In recent years, during a serious national shortage of tetanus/diphtheria vaccine, Massachusetts was the only state in the country protected from the shortage as MBL provides tetanus/diphtheria vaccine for all of its residents. Furthermore, MBL increased production to alleviate the national shortage and now delivers millions of doses of Td, vaccine meeting 20% of the total US needs.
In 1999, the Department of Defense (DoD) sought a manufacturer of Vaccinia Immune Globulin (VIG) for its smallpox vaccine program but no commercial manufacturer was interested; MBL alone responded to the task.  In 1996 when the National Institutes of Health (NIH) sought a biologic manufacturer to collaborate on products in its extramural research program,  MBL was awarded a five-year contract and since then has produced monoclonal antibodies for a number of infectious diseases.

MBL's unique capacity also figured on the international scene in 2003 in response to the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).  Soon after the virus causing the quick-spreading and deadly disease was identified, the NIH partnered with the MBL to launch an aggressive effort to find a monoclonal antibody that could be effective against the SARS virus. That effort, in partnership with MBL's collaborator Medarex, yielded results in just six months, producing a potential treatment for SARS which remains in pre-clinical testing.

Looking toward the future, MBL is working with public and private partners to develop monoclonal antibodies for a range of public health concerns. The most advanced of those efforts is a potential new therapy for a severe form of hospital-acquired diarrhea, which affects some 300,000 people in the United States each year with increased morbidity and deaths due to a new emerging strain. In addition, MBL together with the U.S. Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) has identified a monoclonal antibody for rabies, which affects nearly 10 million people each year worldwide, resulting in some 40,000 to 70,000 deaths. These projects, like all MBLs development efforts, are based on the public health need, not the potential for blockbuster profits.

"The interests of the people of Massachusetts, of the nation and indeed of the world, are best served by having a public-sector facility like MBL," Dr. Ambrosino said. "This new facility will ensure that for generations to come, monoclonal antibodies and other biologics that impact the health of our public will be available regardless of their commercial viability."

Also speaking at the opening ceremonies at MBL today were:  U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy; U.S. Rep. Michael E.Capuano; Alfred DeMaria, Jr., MD, assistant commissioner, Bureau of Communicable Disease Control at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health; Larry J. Anderson, MD, branch chief at the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention; Carole Heilman, PhD, director of the Division of Microbiology & Infectious Diseases at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIH); and Nils Lonberg, PhD, senior vice president and scientific director at Medarex, Inc.

Franklin Place Associates, LLC was the developer of the new facility. Boston-based Skanska USA Building Inc. was the construction manager.  CDI with Stull and Lee Inc. of Boston designed the new building. With the staff brought on for new facility, MBL now employs 320 people including scientists, engineers, manufacturing associates, laboratory technicians and an array of support staff with many living in the surrounding neighborhoods.

The University of Massachusetts Medical School is one of the fastest growing academic health centers in the country and has built a reputation as a world-class research institution, consistently producing noteworthy advances in clinical and basic research.  The Medical School attracts more than $173 million in research funding annually, 80 percent of which comes from federal funding sources.  Research funding enables UMMS scientists to explore human disease from the molecular level to large-scale clinical trials.  Basic and clinical research leads to new approaches for diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease. Visit www.umassmed.edufor additional information

Contact: Michael Cohen, 508-856-2000, Cell 508-868-4778,