2021 | Business

Novavax CEO says Gaithersburg campus could have 800 employees by year’s end

Governor visited business on Thursday

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Novavax CEO Stanley Erck, left, talks with Gov. Larry Hogan on Thursday at the new Novavax headquarters in Gaithersburg.

Photo by Elia Griffin

The CEO of Novavax said Thursday that up to 800 people could be working in the company’s new global headquarters on Quince Orchard Road by the end of the year.

CEO Stanley Erck talked about the business during a question-and-answer session with reporters on Thursday following a visit by Gov. Larry Hogan to the site.

Erck said that a year ago, there were only 100 employees working at Novavax’s headquarters in Gaithersburg. There are currently about 500, he said.

“We’re not stopping. We hire new people every single week,” he said.

Novavax announced in November that it would be expanding to the new site at 700 Quince Orchard Road to bolster its research and development operations.

Novavax has been developing a COVID-19 vaccine for the past year and was awarded at $1.6 billion contract in July 2020 as part of the federal Operation Warp Speed program.

The first three COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use in the United States were from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two shots while Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine is a single shot.

As of Feb. 27, Novavax’s COVID-19 vaccine was one of two in Phase 3 of clinical trials in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The other is the AstraZeneca vaccine.

As of Wednesday, 42.5% of the American population was fully vaccinated according to the CDC.

In Montgomery County, 61.3% of residents were fully vaccinated as of Wednesday, according to the CDC.

On Thursday, Erck said Novavax would make the vaccine as soon as it can “get it up and running.” He said the company is finishing a Phase 3 trial, in which 30,000 people were enrolled, two-thirds of which received the vaccine. The other third received a placebo, he said.

“It was just a year ago that Novavax enrolled our first participants in a clinical trial, and since then, we’ve worked around the clock to vaccinate over 50,000 people in the last year,” he said referring to clinical trials.

Hogan said he is proud that Novavax is based in Maryland and that it is “expanding its footprint” in Gaithersburg.

“The global fight against this deadly virus is far from over. The Novavax vaccine candidate is going to be a crucial tool in continuing to address the rise of variant strains and future outbreaks,” he said.

This week, the Gaithersburg City Council approved a sketch plan to expand Novavax’s campus further, to the adjacent site of 14 Firstfield Road. In addition to the Novavax building, the sketch plan calls for a parking structure and green space on the site.

Council Member Neil Harris said following Thursday’s event that the city “couldn’t be happier” to have another biotech company expanding there.

“Gaithersburg is the home of more than half of the biotech jobs in the county, and the county is one of the biggest biotech centers in the country. So, it’s part of our key strategy to help make this thing happen as much as possible,” he said.

Harris added that the Novavax campus site was once home to a defense contracting company in the 1970s.

When the company moved, the city was approached about a variety of potential uses for the site, such as a car dealership and a secure storage facility. But the city wasn’t interested in those ideas, he said.

“So, Novavax headquarters here is kind of a monument to stubbornness for holding out for the best possible use for the site,” he said.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com