Biotech set to expand in city

$18 million project to nearly double capacity

It makes pharmaceuticals

Cambrex won't specify number of new jobs

August 13, 2002|By Julie Bell | Julie Bell,SUN STAFF

Cambrex Corp., responding to a shortage of biotech manufacturing space, announced yesterday an $18.5 million expansion that will nearly double the capacity of its Baltimore drug-making plant.

The Rutherford, N.J.-based life-sciences company said the expansion will involve constructing a building next to its plant at 5901 E. Lombard St. The project is expected to be completed by the third quarter of 2004.

The Lombard Street plant is part of Cambrex Bio Science Inc., a Cambrex Corp. unit that makes drugs for pharmaceutical companies at plants in Baltimore and Hopkinton, Mass. The Hopkinton plant also will be expanded, at a cost of $7.7 million, the company said.

"We'll definitely be adding some head count, but we don't know that number yet," said Aaron H. Heifetz, vice president and general manager at the Baltimore site, which has about 220 employees.

Heifetz declined to estimate the number of jobs to be added, saying Cambrex's upper management had ruled that out for competitive reasons.

"I see today's announcement by Cambrex as an outstanding opportunity to push Baltimore City toward the critical mass its potential has long demonstrated was there," said David S. Iannucci, secretary of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development.

The city, he noted, has top-notch research universities in the University of Maryland, Baltimore and the Johns Hopkins University but has fostered relatively little private biotech development. Montgomery County has the largest share of the state's nearly 300 biotech companies.

Iannucci said the Cambrex plant will provide opportunities for the manufacture of drugs being developed by Maryland companies. Heifetz said Cambrex sees that as an opportunity.

The expansion will be in addition to Cambrex Bio Science's $5 million renovation of an 80,000-square-foot building the company leases across Lombard Street from the manufacturing plant.

The renovation will include the construction of a pilot plant and laboratories that will make small batches of drugs to test production processes. Construction is expected to be completed in nine months.

Cambrex Bio Science moved its executive offices into the leased building this year.

Cambrex Corp. President Claes Glassell talked about the expansion plans, which were then in their formative stages, in an interview with The Sun in the spring.

An international shortage of manufacturing space for biotech drugs, particularly for delicate therapeutic proteins, is behind the company's plans to expand the manufacturing plant. At the time, Glassell said the company had leased the 80,000-square-foot building and was ordering equipment for the labs and the pilot plant.

While the company was beginning to plan for the expansion of the manufacturing plant, it had yet to get approval from its board of directors. It has now done so.

Heifetz said yesterday that the new plant will give the company the ability to manufacture monoclonal-antibody drugs in Baltimore.

The first phase of the project will add a 3,000-liter stir tank and a 500-liter perfusion reactor, in which a drug can be continuously made and harvested.

Other processes require drugs to be made in a succession of ever-larger vats before harvesting.

Once the first phase of the expansion is complete, the Baltimore site will have the capacity to manufacture 6,300 liters of drugs used in clinical trials and for the market. It currently has 3,300 liters of capacity.

The expansion was announced amid a stock market downturn for biotechnology stocks and layoffs by Maryland companies such as EntreMed Inc., Celera Genomics Group and Guilford Pharmaceuticals Inc.

Those companies are taking steps to conserve cash so that they can shepherd some of their first drugs through clinical trials needed to get them on the market, Iannucci said.

An estimated 1,000 biotech drugs are in development, and 400 of those are in mid- to late-stage human testing, prompting analysts such as U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray's Peter L. Ginsberg to raise the question of whether there will be enough space to make them.

HighTech Business Decisions, a Moraga, Calif., consulting firm, said in a recent report that "a lack of sufficient capacity seems inevitable."

Yesterday, Heifetz said Cambrex is negotiating with companies that want to book space for 2004 in its new facility.

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