The new manufacturing capacity – which is expected to create operational 24 new jobs – will allow SAFC to produce bespoke dry powder culture media for industrial biomanufacturing applications.
SAFC said the additional capabilities will support existing European biopharmaceutical customers by providing an additional back-up source. At present, the US firm only produces powder medias at its plant in Lenexa, Kansas.
The project is being supported by a £1.5m ($2.4m) grant from Government body Enterprise Scotland, which also gave SAFC $260,000 (€201,362) in 2009 to support efforts to upgrade the plant’s liquid media production and handling capabilities.
A Scottish Enterprise spokesman told in-Pharmatechnologist.com that: "The site is already recognised as a centre of excellence for its liquid manufacturing capabilities and the new dry powdered handling facility at Sigma will allow the company to manufacture cell culture media in dry powder form, making it easier and cheaper for the transportation to customers across Europe."
The decision to invest in biomanufacturing media capacity is in keeping with recent SAFC efforts to win business in the biologics sector, which is a topic that sales VP Archie Cullen discussed with in-Pharmatechnologist.com when we visited the Irvine facility last October.
At the time Cullen told us that: “Biological drugs have really come to the fore in the last 15 or 20 years and now we are beginning to see the drugs that reach the market first come off patent…now we are seeing a number of organisations develop biolosimilar versions of these drugs that will challenges and compete with the existing products.”
He added that this demand – coupled with the need for cheaper manufacturing options for biologics – is driving the growth of the biomanufacturing market and SAFC's investment strategy.
This was underlined by the CEO of SAFC’s parent company Sigma Aldrich Rakesh Sachdev in January this year when the firm acquired biologics testing services company BioReliance.
Sachdev said: “As the market continues its focus on biological drug development, our leadership in this area should enable us to build even better more customer-specific solutions.”
Industry expert Jan Ramakers of Jan Ramakers Fine Chemical Consulting Group agreed with the analysis, telling in-Pharmatechnologist.com that: “Expanding the plant will give SAFC better inroads into ‘supporting materials’ for biopharmaceuticals… it looks like they want to have sufficient capacity and capability ahead of the growing biopharma business.”
“In the coming years more biosimilars will appear on the market as the first biopharmaceuticals start going off patent. That will no doubt lead to larger volumes being produced at lower prices so I can imagine the market for sera, buffers, etc getting a boost from that.”
The Irvine expansion plan is also in keeping with SAFC’s growing importance for Sigma Aldrich as a revenue generator.
In July, growth of the fine chemicals unit was cited was one of few positives in Q2 by Sigma, which saw falling demand for its R&D products and services as customers delayed development projects and reduced capital investments.