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Drug production investments skew to biotech side

Capacity expansion announcements at recent industry forum were mostly for advanced therapies

by Michael McCoy , Rick Mullin
March 24, 2022 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 100, Issue 11


An aerial view of Lonza's facility in Visp, Switzerland.
Credit: Lonza
Among Lonza's investments is an expansion of messenger RNA capacity in Visp, Switzerland.

Almost two-thirds of the new drugs approved by the US Food and Drug Administration last year were small molecules produced by traditional chemistry. But if a recent industry showcase is any guide, the drugs of the future will increasingly be produced with biotechnology.

The Drug, Chemical & Associated Technologies Association, a trade group, held its DCAT Week event in New York City this week for the first time since 2019. During a company announcement forum, pharmaceutical service firm executives emphasized that their investments in production capacity for drug industry customers is weighted to biologic drugs, gene therapies, and other advanced therapeutics.

Leon Wyszkowski, president of commercial operations for Thermo Fisher Scientific’s Pharma Services division, devoted his talk to such biotech investments. For example, the firm plans to open a $180 million plant for viral vectors, used to deliver gene therapies, in Massachusetts this year. The facility will be its sixth in a network in the US and Europe. Among other projects, Thermo Fisher is doubling biologics manufacturing capacity in St. Louis, and just announced it will build a biologics facility in China.

Also in China, WuXi STA announced plans to increase oligonucleotide production this year, expanding output in its large-, medium-, and small-scale units. The firm will also add two 1,000 L units for peptide production for a total of 14 by the end of the year, according to Yu Lu, chief business officer and head of new modalities.

In a video presentation, Lonza executive Jean-Christophe Hyvert said his firm’s biologics and cell and gene therapy business will invest one-third of its sales this year into capacity for products such as messenger RNA (mRNA), mammalian cell drugs, and exosome-based therapies. Among the projects Hyvert highlighted are a $200 million investment in mammalian cell capacity in New Hampshire and the addition of fermenters in the Netherlands and Switzerland that make mRNA for Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine.

Karen Flynn, Catalent’s chief commercial officer, likewise said her firm will spend $100 million in Italy to add reactors for biologic drugs and $230 million in Baltimore to add capacity to make viral vectors.

Two firms did reveal investments in small-molecule drug production. HAS Healthcare Advanced Synthesis, formerly Helsinn Advanced Synthesis, said it will spend up to $80 million at its flagship site in Switzerland to expand capacity for highly-potent active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), mainly for customers developing cancer treatments.

And Cambrex CEO Thomas Loewald announced $100 million worth of investments across the company’s sites in Iowa, North Carolina, and Sweden. Sounding a different note than most other presenters, Loewald emphasized Cambrex’s dedication to small-molecule APIs. “We’re in a dynamic market, and it’s an important market,” he said.



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