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Tonix Pharmaceuticals will buy a Frederick R&D facility to speed COVID-19 vaccine development

The company is acquiring a 48,000-square-foot facility where it already has research activities. It's the third recent move that will grow the life sciences footprint in Frederick.

Frederick, Maryland. (Courtesy photo)

A publicly traded biopharmaceutical company is acquiring an R&D facility in Frederick as it looks to develop a vaccine and treatments for COVID-19.

Tonix Pharmaceuticals has a deal in place to buy the 48,000-square-foot facility from its vaccine research partner Southern Research, as the latter is planning to consolidate its activities in Birmingham, Alabama.

The transaction is expected to close in the fourth quarter, also when the facility is expected to be operational. Terms were not disclosed.

Tonix will look to speed develop of three treatments at the site, which has already housed research activities for each. There’s a COVID-19 vaccine, as well as an antiviral drug for the disease that caused a global pandemic. Another vaccine in development would protect against smallpox and monkeypox.

“The Fredrick facility will be a major expansion of our R&D capabilities,” Tonix CEO Dr. Seth Lederman said in a statement. “We believe this facility will ensure adequate resources and capacity to support and grow our pipeline of vaccines and antiviral therapeutics. In addition, we view control of in-house facilities as a strategic capability to ensure the speed and efficiency with which we can develop vaccines and antiviral products in the future against known, emerging or novel pathogens.”

While the treatments have yet to be approved for use, but the announcement of new locally developed COVID-19 treatments is timely. The Delta variant of the disease is leading to a rise in cases in the U.S. and the U.K., as well as the return of lockdowns and mask restrictions in cities like Los Angeles.

“These concerning trends point to an urgent need for more robust vaccine technology and better overall preparedness,” Dr. Lederman said. “The COVID-19 pandemic revealed weaknesses in the U.S. domestic capability to conduct infectious disease R&D and produce vaccines and therapeutics, particularly in the setting of an interrupted global supply chain. We believe our planned capabilities at the Frederick facility will provide greatly needed domestic resources.”

Tonix is based in Chatham, New Jersey, and also has forthcoming facilities for development and manufacturing in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and Hamilton, Montana.

The local acquisition is another gain for Maryland, which already had vaccine development activities taking place at the National Institutes of Health campus in Rockville and Gaithersburg-based Novavax, as well as the much-scrutinized manufacturing of the J&J vaccine at one of the Emergent Biosolutions facilities in Baltimore.

More broadly, the state has a biotech corridor with a number of companies that have developed and partnered to advance COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. Lederman said the area is “rich in highly skilled talent, and is also close to the center of the U.S. biodefense research community.”

In 2020, commercial real estate company JLL said the Baltimore-D.C. region has the fourth-largest cluster of biosciences companies, with suburban Maryland being a key driver. The companies tend to locate close to federal hubs like the NIH and U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as well as military bases that serve as research centers like Frederick’s Fort Detrick.

In particular, Frederick has seen its biotech footprint grow this year. VaLogic in April said it would turn a vacant building into a 75,000-square-foot space for multiple companies. In May, Australia-based COVID-19 home test maker Ellume said it is planning to create 1,500 jobs with a new manufacturing center as part of the Matan Progress Labs development.

The 55,000-employee life sciences industry in Maryland saw 9% job growth over five years. It seems Frederick is poised to be a big contributor to another jump up.

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