If a newspaper makes you sneeze, or if you're allergic to dust, cats, beer, chicken feathers, ragweed or dozens of other things, Greer Laboratories produces the extract for shots that may help.
The Lenoir-based company produces between 165 and 200 extracts of allergenic substances that physicians buy for allergy immunization shots. With 100 employees, it is one of the four largest such labs in the country. Marketing manager Eric Hoffman says that the others are owned by corporations, but Greer is a family business. William White Jr. is president; his wife, Elizabeth, is director; their son, William White Jr., is the head of the lab, and their daughter, Margaret, is assistant director of sterile products.
"And I'm married to the daughter," Hoffman said.
Sold Roots, Herbs
The firm, founded in 1906 by Elizabeth White's grandfather, R. T. Greer, started by selling roots and herbs to pharmaceutical manufacturers, Hoffman said. After World War II, it began making extracts.
The process begins with Greer's nationwide network of collectors, who gather plants, grasses, pollen, skins, dust, fleas, cockroaches and even lobsters, and send them in to Lenoir.
"We get our house dust from church organizations, individuals or wherever we can get it," Hoffman said. "We've got a refrigerator full of cat and dog skins."
The substance next undergoes a series of purification steps to ensure that only the basic protein responsible for the allergy remains.
"It's a very comprehensive process," Hoffman said. "It has to be done in a sterile environment. You have to be very sure the quality and strength are there on an active basis."
Greer also tests the extracts on guinea pigs, mice and other lab animals, he said.
The firm provides mixes of extracts aimed at persons allergic to related plants. For example, a "three-weed mix" includes cocklebur, lamb's quarter and rough pickweed.
The extracts are so concentrated that "one week's production would fit into the refrigerator beer cooler at the 7-Eleven," Hoffman said.