South Korea is becoming a biopharma powerhouse, according to experts at last month’s CPhI event in Seoul, who cite both the number of drugs being developed there and the investments being made in bioproduction as growth drivers.
One firm with a willingness to invest in manufacturing capacity is Samsung Biologics, which invited Biopharma-Reporter to visit the plant it is building in Songdo, Incheon.
The $740m plant – which will be Samsung’s third facility at the site – will house 180,000L of capacity in twelve 15,000L stainless steel bioreactors.
Doing the math(s), when the plant comes online in 2018, Samsung Biologics will boast a total of 360,000L of biomanufacturing capacity across the Songdo site; 50% more than Genentech has at its Vacaville, California site and 50,000L more than Celltrion plans to have down the road.
Combined with Celltrion’s planned capacity upgrade, this will give the reclaimed region of Songdo the most concentrated biomanufacturing capacity in the world. Not bad for an area of land which only twenty years ago formed part of the Yellow Sea.
The new Samsung Biologics plant is being built by another wing of the Korean multinational conglomerate, Samsung Engineering, and as construction will be complete next year, all this journalist could report back with is a crane-heavy photo of the project’s progress.
Samsung recently filed for an IPO on the Korean stock exchange. Listing rules mean the firm can only share limited information with the press, even invited journalists.
As a result, security was tight during our visit to Samsung’s second plant in Songdowhich started making drugs earlier this year.
Phones, laptops, cameras, dictaphones, USB sticks, hard drives and – for some reason – portable games systems cannot be taken beyond the reception desk.
The tour began with a marketing video beamed out on a Samsung television and was followed by a virtual reality stroll around the upstream production hall using a – you guessed it – a Samsung Gear VR headset and Samsung Galaxy phone.
The facility – which was commissioned in 2013 - houses 150,000L of bioreactor capacity in ten stainless steel vessels supplied by Swiss firm Bioengineering AG.
Products made at the site include Yervoy (ipilimumab), Bristol-Myers Squibb’s advanced melanoma treatment, which was approved in the US in 2011.
Samsung Biologics signed a ten-year service agreement to make the monoclonal antibody in 2013, and – the following year – extended its partnership with the Big Pharma firm. The CMO also makes drugs for Swiss pharma giant Roche at the site.
This, we were told, is down to Samsung Biologics’ 91% ownership of Samsung Bioepis – the other 9% being owned by Biogen – rather than the CMO’s manufacturing revenue from the monoclonal antibody.
In fact Biopharma-Reporter learned that despite a string of regulatory successes for Bioepis (the latest in Canada this week), the facility is not yet making product for its sister company.
While the IPO meant Samsung could not say much, the scale of the firm’s ambition is clear.
Banners adorn the site of Samsung Biologics’ goal of being the world’s top CMO by 2020.
But with Biopharma’s growing demand for manufacturing capacity coupled with Samsung Biologics’ rapid rise since its creation in 2011, it seems to this reporter that the firm could be challenging this title as soon as the third plant comes online in 2018.