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TAMU's NCTM trains hundreds to help produce new COVID-19 vaccine candidates

Posted at 6:09 PM, Apr 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-23 19:28:52-04

COLLEGE STATION, TX — The federal government created Centers for Innovation and Advanced Development and Manufacturing many years ago. The program in College Station was established in 2012 and consists of a workforce training program to be able to manufacture vaccines if an event like a global pandemic occurred... well it's here.

Training hundreds of people to mass-manufacture as many vaccines as possible is what the National Center for Therapeutics Manufacturing in College Station is doing.

Since Aug, scientists at NCTM have been training workers on the basics needed to help produce two COVID-19 vaccine candidates for the federal government.

"The federal government said 'We built this program up, y'all train some people'. Basically, we are working with FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies Texas, who is the contractor for the federal government to mass manufacture Novavax vaccine candidates," Jenny Ligon, Assistant Director for Workforce Development at National Center for Therapeutics Manufacturing shared with KRHD 25 News.

Needing to rapidly hire people, Ligon says, since last August, they have trained 15-20 people every month, non-stop and they are simply on-call.

"So the federal government will come to us and say 'Alright start mass-manufacturing the Novavax vaccine' and we will do that... but right now, what the government is doing is reserving our capacity here in Bryan College Station...which is huge," Ligon added.

Ligon says Bryan-College Station has a growing biotech hub which is important for diversification within the workforce in Texas.

"Normally, we rely on oil and gas, BioTech is coming up big in Texas and we are pleased to be able to play our role in that," Ligon said.

Assistant Director for Operations at the National Center for Therapeutics Manufacturing, Michael Johanson, says, they are training just about anyone to get the job done, scientific background or not.

Johanson says the vaccine production process comes in two major parts.

One is making the vaccine with the cells themselves, known as upstream and the second part is purifying the vaccine and putting it into a formulation that you can give to people, which is known as downstream, groundbreaking operations... that are once in a lifetime.

"We bring them in and we teach them all the basics. We teach them some of the scientific backgrounds, so they can have an idea, but we focus more on the hands-on actual training. How do take a cell sample, how do you take a cell count on a certain machine.....," Johanson said. "We've known how to do this for a while... It's not anything especially new for this particular vaccine, but it's neat to see it being applied to a real global pandemic... It's a global crisis. We are able to use our skills and pass them on to people who can help solve this problem," he added.

Ligon says it tells a lot for the leadership within the Texas A&M University System to have backed the Centers for Innovation and Advanced Development and Manufacturing all those years ago because they have a lot of help they can give.

"The federal investment in our community has been enormous. We are excited, and to date, we have trained 200 people since August of last year for FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies Texas and it's going to keep continuing on for as long as we know. This is not over by any chance... by any long shot," Ligon added.

Leaders say it's just a matter of time before Novavax gets to the market.

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