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Evonik plans $220 million US project for pharmaceutical lipids

Venture is backed by $150 million in government investment

by Rick Mullin
June 11, 2022 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 100, Issue 21


A drug factory with workers appropriately protected.
Credit: Evonik Industries
Evonik Industries produces lipids at this facility in Dossenheim, Germany.

Evonik Industries says it will build a lipid production facility at its Tippecanoe manufacturing complex in Lafayette, Indiana. The $220 million project will be financed with $150 million from the US government’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

The German company’s pharmaceutical services division already supplies lipids for use in formulating messenger RNA (mRNA) therapies, including COVID-19 vaccines, to Pfizer, BioNTech, and others from its facilities in Dossenheim and Hanau, Germany. The Indiana plant will exceed the combined capacities of those facilities, according to Paul Spencer, Evonik’s head of drug delivery.

Demand for lipids has soared in recent years with the development of mRNA vaccines. Naked mRNA quickly degrades in the body and can trigger an unwanted immune reaction. To get the genetic material to its target cells, vaccine developers combine it with a mixture of several sophisticated lipids to form lipid nanoparticles, or LNPs.

Like Evonik’s facilities in Germany, the Tippecanoe site will not produce LNPs but only lipids, Spencer says. The company does have small-scale LNP production capacity at a plant in Vancouver, British Columbia, that it got in 2016 when it purchased Transferra Nanosciences.

Evonik’s original interest in the lipid field, predating the COVID-19 vaccines, focused broadly on the use of LNPs as delivery agents for a range of DNA- and RNA-based therapies.

“The reason we got into this business was not because of vaccines; it was because of cancer immunotherapy and personalized medicine,” Spencer says. The company shifted its focus to producing lipid for vaccines during the pandemic and accelerated the business by scaling up the two German facilities.

Stefan Randl, head of drug substance at Evonik, notes that the market for lipids and LNPs is primed for growth, given the number of RNA and DNA therapies in drug company pipelines and the emergence of protein replacement therapies.

Other US lipid producers include Croda, which bought Avanti Polar Lipids and its plant in Alabama in 2020; and CordenPharma, which operates a plant in Colorado and supplies lipids to Moderna for its mRNA COVID-19 vaccine.

Evonik’s Tippecanoe complex, which the firm acquired from Eli Lilly and Company in 2009, employs about 650. The lipid operation is expected to open in 2025 and add over 80 jobs. Construction will begin next year.



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