By Randall Osborne

In a move to consolidate its vaccine manufacturing efforts, Chiron Corp. is shutting down its St. Louis manufacturing facility by the end of May and plans to sell the building.

"We're not cutting back," said Jim Knighton, vice president of investor relations for Chiron. He said the plant's work will be done at the company's other sites: its Emeryville, Calif., headquarters and facilities in Italy and Germany.

The 10,000-square-foot St. Louis plant is dedicated to making vaccines, using mammalian cell culture.

"The most notable one is the herpes simplex [vaccine] and all are in early stages of development," Knighton said. Others included vaccines for HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C, and cytomegalovirus (CMV).

"We have capacity to make them in Emeryville," Knighton said. "It's all part of our current restructuring, looking at all of our assets."

The St. Louis plant employs 60 people, all of whom remained in place Friday.

"I can't tell you all of them will be offered jobs," Knighton said. "We will probably not reassign all of them." Those who are asked to stay with the company will have to relocate, he added.

Meanwhile, Chiron continues its hunt for a CEO, which began in early 1997. The company has said Edward Penhoet, currently serving as CEO, will be vice chairman of the board of directors while continuing to oversee various operating aspects of the business. (See BioWorld Today, Jan. 30, 1997, p. 1.)

Finding a new CEO is "the highest priority," Knighton said.

"I got a call from an analyst who said, 'I heard you're going to be naming somebody in 30 days,'" Knighton said. "Well, I can't say that's going to happen, and I can't say that's not going to happen."

The company has narrowed the search to "three very serious candidates, but that's not to say you'll close any of them," Knighton added. "It's going well, but it's not done, and this is a very binary thing. You either have somebody or you don't."

Chiron's stock (NASDAQ:CHIR) closed Friday at $19.652, up $0.312. *