BASEL, Switzerland (AP) — Novartis AG has opened the first U.S. plant to produce flu vaccines using cell cultures instead of egg-based methods, it said Tuesday. The new site in Holly Springs, North Carolina, is unlikely to ramp up output in time to produce vaccines for the current swine flu pandemic, but will be active from 2011. Total investment in the facility, which was given a $487 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, was nearly $1 billion, Novartis said. With demand high because of the swine flu pandemic, companies are trying to find a more efficient way of producing vaccine than the slow method of cultivating seed virus in chicken eggs. Novartis said once the plant is in full operation it will be able to supply 150 million doses of pandemic flu vaccine six months after a pandemic is declared. The sale of flu vaccines from cell cultures is not yet approved in the United States, but Novartis is allowed to produce them there. The company said its agreement with the Health Department also includes funding for the development of such a vaccine. Novartis said the plant could start producing pandemic flu vaccines in 2011, making it very unlikely it would produce any for the current swine flu pandemic. It is expected to run at full capacity in 2013, it added. Novartis already operates a cell-based flu vaccines plant in Marburg, Germany.