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When Richard Webby heard through the grapevine that his employer, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., planned to build a factory on the hospital campus, he didn't express much interest, assuming it was a business decision. "It was a shrug your shoulders kind of reaction," says the virologist who is part of the World Health Organization's network of influenza experts.
But when the Asian bird flu erupted in 2003, he quickly acquainted himself with the new facility. Webby and his research team raced against the clock to produce seed strains of the new flu for a vaccine in case the disease jumped to humans. To meet Food and Drug Administration vaccine standards, he needed great quantifies of the virus and all samples had to go through a rigorous quality-control process. His own biology lab wasn't equipped to do that. So he huddled with the staff-of-the hospital's Current Good Manufacturing Processes (cGMP)-compliant facility and they drew up a plan to quickly produce seed stock. Webby even assigned one of his lab members to work full time inside the clean rooms of the facility.
In a matter of weeks, Webby had his virus seed stock and was ready to start working on a vaccine. He's now much more excited about the factory. "I'm …