Covid vaccine facility breaks ground in Dartmouth

Aug 3, 2021

A biopharmaceutical company working to develop a new Covid-19 vaccine has officially begun construction of a new research and manufacturing facility in Dartmouth.

Officials from around the South Coast visited the Dartmouth portion of the New Bedford Business Park on Aug. 3 to break ground outside the 45,000 square foot facility Tonix Pharmaceuticals will use.

“We are excited to join the biotech miracle with the advanced development center here in Dartmouth,” Tonix CEO and Dartmouth resident, Dr. Seth Lederman said. “This capability will transform our efforts across the research and development spectrum in support of a vital national initiative.” 

The facility is intended to be Biosafety Level 2, meaning it will hold bioagents or chemicals considered to be of moderate health hazard.

Lederman said developing a new Covid shot will be the main focus of the Dartmouth facility, adding that he expects the virus to be endemic — meaning it will linger for the rest of time.

Along with Covid-19 vaccines, the facility will also work on potential inoculations for future pandemics.

The vaccines, he said, will be developed through a “horsepox virus vector,” meaning that part of the Covid virus will be put into a live modified horsepox virus.

Lederman said that the vaccine-making process at the Dartmouth building will be based on the work of Edward Jenner, an English scientist and physician who came up with the concept of vaccines in the 18th century and created the smallpox vaccine — the world’s first vaccine.

According to the CEO, animal trials at other facilities have already seen success. “We’ve already shown that vaccinating monkeys with this protects them against Covid,” Lederman said.

After retrofitting the current building, formerly occupied by Navionics Inc., Lederman expects it to be partially functioning by the first quarter of fiscal year 2023. At full capacity, he said, it will employ up to 70 researchers, scientists, manufacturing and technical support staff.

According to the CEO, there are currently five accepted job offers and the company is “actively recruiting” high-skill labor likely from local schools such as UMass Dartmouth and Bristol Community College.

“When it comes to biotech, the center of the universe is Boston,” Lederman said. “We are coming to New Bedford and Dartmouth to meet these amazing scientists and technicians where they live.”

Bill Held, CEO of the Woburn-based construction company Cardinal Group Inc., noted that local contractors and equipment vendors will be “working ‘round the clock” in order to retrofit the facility.

He noted that workers should be on board beginning this week and “in the months to come.”

Elected officials praised the addition of the new facility, with many saying that the work done is the first step in driving future economic development on the South Coast.

“It’s a win-win,” U.S. Rep. Bill Keating said. “This will be the beginning of more investments in this area.” 

New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell said that it’s “a big deal” to have 70 new high-skilled jobs in the area, especially since they will contribute to the local economy.

“It generates tax revenue, unfortunately to the Town of Dartmouth and not the City of New Bedford,” he laughed. “That’s okay, we’re all one big happy family.”