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Have You Ever Thought … How our community is on the cutting edge of saving lives?

June 11, 2017 5:00 a.m.
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Several years ago, not many would have said that thousands in the world would look to our area to be the difference between life and death. But as we near production at the Shire Plant that is exactly what it means.  The products made there will bring hope to those fighting rare diseases.

Few had any idea what an impact our area might have when it was announced that Baxter International was building a plant in the Stanton Springs Industrial Park located at exit 101 on Interstate 20. Baxter has been in the Pharmaceutical Manufacturing business for more than 100 years. Ground was broken to build a plant of over one million square feet that would one day employ some 1500 people.

This meant an investment of over one billion dollars.  Construction was completed last year.

About two years ago Baxter split its business into two companies.  Our local facility became a part of a new Bioscience company called “Baxalta.” Its mission was to produce plasma-based treatments for rare diseases.  The main two types of products that will be manufactured are Gammagard and Albumin.

But before most of us learned to say “Baxalta” instead of Baxter, the company was merged with Shire.  The buyout cost was $32 billion.  This merger created the largest global Biotech Company focused solely on rare diseases. 

Shire has 24,000 employees in 68 countries.  They produce medicines that are available in more than 100 counties. In a few years medicine produced at the Stanton Springs facility will be making a lifesaving difference for thousands of patients.  And, of course, this has a ripple effect as families and friends are impacted as well as the one battling the rare disease.

There have been more than 7000 rare diseases identified.  About 350 million people suffer from some form of a so-called rare disease. Half of those are children and a third will lose their battle with their disease.  The challenge is great since currently in only 5 percent of the cases can treatment be offered.

These rare diseases are often misunderstood, underdiagnosed, underserved, and many times life threatening. The very fact they are rare compounds the difficulty of success in treatment.  But the hope for a new day in many cases will come from the work done here in Newton County at the new Shire Plant.

One major factor in this plant being built in our community is the way the community has been supportive. The far sightedness of those who set aside the area that would become Stanton Springs will pay off in many good jobs for years to come.  This was an effort of four counties, Newton, Morgan, Jasper and Walton Counties.  The ability of the City of Covington to provide the needed water, gas and sewer services played a vital role was well.

Another key part was the $14 million invested in the Georgia Bioscience Training Center.  This 48,000 square foot facility is located directly across the street from the Shire facility.  It is a joint effort of the Technical College System of Georgia and Georgia Quick Start, the state’s workforce training program.  It will not only serve the Shire plants but all future bioscience industry ventures that may come to Georgia.

The hope is this major new plant nearing clearance for full production along with this training facility, will see similar industries attracted to our area.  

You may have read in last’s week’s edition of The Covington News that the Shire Plant is about to start what is called “Conformance Runs.”  These are where the full manufacturing process is fully operated. If successful, the plant will be licensed to start full production and can sell it products for those who need them in their battle with many rare diseases.

The current employees of Shire, in keeping with the traditions of Shire, are becoming involved in the community around them.  They have already been active in their support local food banks, the Garden of Gethsemane Homeless Shelter in Covington and A Child’s Voice Advocacy Center in Social Circle.

There is a lot for us to celebrate.  Good jobs, good neighbors, and lives around the world being saved are indeed reasons for us to proud to be the home of this new Shire Plant.  Bigger than the plant itself is the impact it will have around the globe.

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