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Merck to make drugs for contract manufacturer

Pharma giant plans $60 million investment in microbial facility to supply Fujifilm Diosynth

by Jean-François Tremblay
June 9, 2016 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 94, ISSUE 24

Credit: Fujifilm Diosynth
A microbial fermentation unit at Fujifilm Diosynth.

When major drug companies sell off their manufacturing plants, they often remain tied to the facilities as long-term customers. But once in a while, the pattern is reversed. Drugmaker Merck & Co., which sold a contract biologics business to Fujifilm a few years ago, will be a supplier of manufacturing services to the Japanese firm.

The pharma giant is investing $60 million at its Brinny site in County Cork, Ireland, to build a 20,000-L facility for microbial biologics. The 30-year-old site is already equipped with facilities for manufacturing biologics.

The new Brinny facility will supply Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies, a business that Fujifilm bought from Merck in 2011 reportedly for $490 million. Diosynth operates two plants, one in Research Triangle Park, N.C., and one in Billingham, England. Employing 1,000 people, Diosynth produces not only microbial biologics but also vaccines and biopharmaceuticals made from mammalian cell culture.

A Fujifilm spokesperson in Tokyo tells C&EN that the deal benefits both Merck and Diosynth. Some prospective or existing Diosynth customers require larger production capabilities, which the new plant will provide, she explains.

Diosynth currently manufactures microbial biologics in batches ranging from 100 to 5,000 L and animal-cell-based biopharmaceuticals in batches from 110 to 2,000 L.

For Merck, the new microbial unit will allow it to maintain employment levels at the Brinny site.

Although most investments in biologics plants by contract manufacturers in recent years have been for facilities that grow drugs in mammalian cells, the Merck-Fujifilm collaboration is a reminder that microbial biologics remain competitive.

Plants that generate material by microbial fermentation may produce a narrower range of proteins, but they can help drug firms achieve lower costs during the production of some biological drugs, says Qibin Liang, chief operating officer of MabPlex, an antibody-drug conjugate producer based in Yantai, China.

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