Bilthoven Biologicals vaccines saving lives

It can sometimes feel like vaccines are a relatively new technology. Even though most of us have had vaccinations in our childhood, recent events have really brought this world-changing technology to the front of our minds. So, it may come as a surprise that Bilthoven Biologicals located at the Utrecht Science Park Bilthoven has been central to bringing vaccines to the world and saving lives for more than 60 years.

11 March 2024 4 minutes

Since the 1960’s, Bilthoven has been the centre of production for Polio vaccines, first for the domestic market and now internationally. Their work led to the eradication of Polio from the Netherlands in the early 90’s, and, as part of World Health Organisation (WHO) initiatives, contributed to Africa being declared Polio free on the 25th of August 2020.

As part of the Dutch government the facility originally worked closely with WHO exchange programmes which saw students from developing countries come to Utrecht to learn about vaccine manufacture. With this knowledge, they returned home to develop domestic capabilities and join the fight against preventable disease.

Putting lessons to work

One such student, Cyrus Poonawalla from India, returned to India and put the lessons learned in Bilthoven to work. Founding the Serum Institute of India in 1966, Poonawalla led his team to become one of the world’s leading vaccine makers, with Serum Institute products being given to an estimated 65% of the world’s children today.

He also continued to collaborate with the facility in Bilthoven, meaning he was perfectly positioned to take it over in 2011 when the Dutch government decided to end public ownership.  Poonawalla became the owner of not only the facility, but also the 40 acre site it was located on, the Utrecht Science Park Bilthoven. The facility, from then on known as Bilthoven Biologicals (BBio), retains their focus on producing polio vaccines with the team of little over 500 professionals.

In 1988, there were 350,000 global cases of Polio across 125 countries; by 2021, this had dropped to only 6 reported cases. Bilthoven Biologicals has been at the forefront of this success, distributing over 156 million vaccines to 129 countries between 2014 and 2020 alone.

Utrecht Science Park Bilthoven

Central to this success is the unique opportunities and capacity which Utrecht offers. With the strong logistical connection offered by Schiphol Airport and transport infrastructure connection to central Europe, distribution and dispersal of vaccines couldn’t be easier.

Additionally, the Science Park itself offers strong infrastructure including utilities like electricity, steam and water at a level and quality necessary for facilities like Biltohoven Biologicals. These can’t be found on many research parks or within academic institutions. This has encouraged Bilthoven Biologicals to expand their facilities over the past years at the Poonawalla Science Park Bilthoven.

The Utrecht Science Park Bilthoven is one of the satelite locations of the Utrecht Science Park, which is home to the Univeristy of Utrecht and University Medical Center, University of Applied Sciences Utrecht and many more knowledge institutions and innovative companies. The Bilthoven location is currently being expanded with new buildings to house other companies attracted to the infrastructure and expertise.

The new, state of the art facilities, such as a production plant and a new laboratory, contribute to doubling or even tripling the volume of Polio vaccine which Bilthoven Biologicals can produce. This puts them on course to become the largest supplier for UNICEF and so to eradicate Polio altogether.

They also aim to expand the range of vaccines produced from Bilthoven Biologicals, enabling them to drive down the price for other vaccines within the European market.

Pandemic Preparedness contract by the EU

Bilthoven Biologicals is granted a pandemic preparedness contract by the European Commission. The framework agreement is aimed at pandemic preparedness, including manufacturing and supply of viral vector vaccines in emergency situations in Europe. The first milestone in this program for BBio: a positive progress report after the first audit in October 2023 on the efforts so far. All work packages that will ensure that the BBio facilities meet the set requirements are proceeding according to plan.

“BBio endorses the importance of having ‘ever-warm’ vaccine manufacturing capacities available in the EU for pandemic preparedness and is highly committed to fulfill its role and responsibility for Europe and global health. This contract with the European Commission will ensure significant supply of viral vector vaccine doses to address potential public health threats,” said Jef de Clercq, CEO at Bilthoven Biologicals.

BBio is a fully dedicated vaccine manufacturing company focused on providing affordable vaccines for global health. With its end-to-end vaccine manufacturing based in Bilthoven, the Netherlands, BBio has extensive experience in all aspects of vaccine manufacturing from active substance to finished product, making them a highly suitable partner for this assignment.

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