Urbane biomanufacturing: Will making biologics in cities become fashionable?

By Gareth Macdonald contact

- Last updated on GMT

Octapharma production plant in Stockholm; a tennis school run by Bjorn Borg is opposite
Octapharma production plant in Stockholm; a tennis school run by Bjorn Borg is opposite

Related tags: Biotechnology

The high street of tomorrow is likely to be a mix of supermarkets, banks and biopharmaceutical manufacturing plants according to one expert who says urban drug production has significant advantages for Pharma firms and patients.

Around 10,000 years ago our nomadic hunter-gather ancestors apparently got fed up with hunting, gathering and wandering about, traded their spears for pitchforks and decided to give living in mud huts a go.

While this seems to have been enough for a while, after about 5,000 years one bright spark in Egypt or Peru – depending on which Wikipedia page you believe – decided to take the whole settling down idea a stage further and came up with the concept of the city.

Since then cities haven’t looked back. At present, around 50% of people live in a city and according to the World Health Organisation (WHO)​ this will rise to six out of 10 of us by 2030 and seven out of ten of us by 2050.

This mass urban migration is likely to impact all aspects of modern life and, in particular, force us to come up new ways of getting all sorts of products from manufacturing sites to the people who need them.

Location, location location

But is this the best option? Wouldn’t it be better to make products – including life-saving biopharmaceuticals - in the same neighbourhoods as the people who buy them?

One person to back the idea of increased urban manufacturing is Joachim Lentes from technology consulting firm the Fraunhofer IAO, who told BioPharma-Reporter.com that out of town drugmakers which head for the city stand to benefit.

Urban manufacturing is especially appropriate for companies producing high tech-products, by applying knowledge-intensive processes to knowledge-intensive products with low volume, and even more, if the products are customer-specific. Therefore, urban manufacturing is an approach for biopharmaceutical firms to gain competitive advantage​.”

Lentes stressed the competitive advantage of being closer to customers, research institutions as well as the availability of a skilled workforce among the biggest pluses of urban drug production.

High tech high rises

BioPharma-Reporter.com visited a facility in downtown Stockholm, Sweden​ last winter where Octapharma makes its recombinant blood clotting agents. It is plants like this that we can expect to seem more of in the future according to Lentes who cited various examples of urban biotechnology.

In Korea it is quite common, that high tech companies like biotech  biopharmaceutical companies are in high-rise building, by using just one or more floors in an industrial complex​” he said, adding that in the US Lehigh Valley Technologies is a well-known example of urban pharmaceutical manufacturing.

However, despite being an advocate of urban biomanufacturing, Lentes did concede that manufacturers looking to set up in towns have to make sure relocating a plant makes sense.

Disadvantages may arise from limited available space at high prizes, logistical challenges based on traffic jams as well as from laws and regulations. So, advantages and disadvantages have to be carefully considered in a case-specific location analysis and decision​.”

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