by Phil Yacuboski
When millions of people line up to get their flu shot every year, few people realize that northeastern Pennsylvania is a big part of making sure people don’t get sick.
Sanofi Pasteur in Swiftwater produces 200 million doses of seasonal influenza vaccine every year for worldwide distribution. The 500-plus acre Monroe County campus employs around 2,500 people and is a global leader in science and health.
“Because the site is so long-standing, we have a strong commitment and history to the community and in today’s day and age, the site works well for us,” said Marea Feinberg, spokeswoman, Sanofi Pasteur.
The site in Swiftwater was founded in 1897 by Dr. Richard Slee as Pocono Biological Laboratories, which after several name changes, became Aventis Pasteur. They first licensed the influenza vaccine in 1947, providing 40 percent of the global vaccine and 60 million doses for the United States. They are also heavily involved in research and development.
“We have individuals that work in vaccine industrial affairs, commercial operations, research and develop,” she said. “It runs the gambit. We have employees that come from northeast Pennsylvania, the Lehigh Valley and even a little further. The Swiftwater site is our U.S. headquarters and it’s been growing.”
While they are largest provider of flu vaccines in the U.S., they also make other vaccines for pediatrics as well as travel and booster vaccines.
“We have a portfolio that expands every stage of the lifespan,” she said. They produce 1 billion vaccines annually.
Vax Serve, which is in Moosic, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Sanoufi Pasteur, services primary care doctors, community immunization pharmacies and travel clinics.
In downtown Scranton, doctors are connecting with patients to do research on a variety of disorders and conditions.
“What we focus on are a lot of central nervous studies, so it’s research in areas of depression, anxiety but it’s also pain management studies,” said Vanessa Fieve, site director and president of Fieve Clinical Research. “One of the first studies we began here has to do with migraines, but we’re also involved with fibromyalgia and back pain.”
Fieve their Scranton office in the Medical Arts Building on North Washington Avenue, is second to their main office in Manhattan. They opened an office earlier this year because the doctor they were working with relocated for family reasons.
“We didn’t want to lose him,” she said. “It’s worked out perfectly.”
She is no stranger to the research business. Her father started a research company in the early 1980s in New York City.
“There’s a lot of research already being done in the Scranton area,” said Fieve. “There’s a big emphasis on healthcare here and it’s an area that’s going to become known for its research.”
She said the biggest challenge now will be letting the community know they are here.
“We want people to know that this is an option,” she said.
The studies are done on an outpatient basis and Fieve said there is no guarantee they will get better. Participants are paid per visit. In some cases, the patients receive medications as part of the study.
“This is really the final stop before it gets FDA approval,” she said.
Some studies are three weeks, she said. Some are three years. Fieve said those who take part see this as an option in their treatment.
Fieve said she gets to the Scranton site twice a month and said it’s a ‘joy’ to leave New York City for Scranton.
“It’s a great city,” she said.
With its vast academic resources, Pennsylvania is a hub of research institutions.
“One of the reasons why people are looking to Pennsylvania is because of our strong ties to private research and universities in the academic setting,” said Thomas Leach, executive director, Pennsylvania Society of Biomedical Research. “We have a highly educated workforce and access to the resources needed on a national and international level because of who is here in Pennsylvania.”
He said Pennsylvania has a good cross-section of different types of research being done; every institution is taking in part in many different fields such as cancer research, according to Leach.
“I think we are competitive with many other parts of the country,” he said, adding that much of that is dependent on funding from places like the National Institutes of Health. “There’s a lot of funding in private companies that comes from pharmaceutical companies and others.”