GE pumping up to $350m in Swedish site to support biopharma demand

By Dan Stanton contact

- Last updated on GMT

Biopharma-Reporter visited GE's Uppsala, Sweden site
Biopharma-Reporter visited GE's Uppsala, Sweden site
GE Healthcare will invest $50-70m a year until 2022 in its bioprocessing equipment and consumables site in Uppsala, Sweden.

The site in Uppsala was set up in the 1950s when Pharmacia moved from Stockholm to Uppsala. Amersham Life Sciences bought Pharmacia in 1997, and eight years later the business and site were acquired by GE Healthcare.

Biopharma-Reporter was invited to visit last week, and while we thought much of the 160,000m2 site looks like a construction site, there turned out to be a valid reason behind this: it is.

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Uppsala is undergoing constant upgrades and expansions, driven by Biopharma’s strong demand for chromatography resins and equipment, said Lotta Ljungqvist, CEO of GE Nordics.

Currently over 200 approved biologics use technologies or consumables made in Uppsala, but with industry’s growing and blossoming pipelines she said there is a continuous need for GE to expand.

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“Because of the growth in the biopharma industry and the need for this equipment, we are investing heavily into our manufacturing capacity both here and across our other manufacturing sites.”

In Uppsala alone, Ljungqvist said GE has committed between $50m (€43m) and $70m per year, from 2017-2022, to increase product capacity. Over five years this will equate to as much as $350m.

Theo Papadopoulos, general manager of operations at the site, added such investment was necessary to cope with double-digit growth in its chromatography tools.

There are currently 14 manufacturing areas on the site across two multipurpose facilities, and current capacity stands at 350,000L of resin per year.

However, while capacity expansion is a major – and very much visible – aspect of the investments, Papadopoulos said much of the Capex is allocated to modernising procedures, through data digitalizing and automation projects.

Histroy of Uppsala and gel filtration

The site has existed in Uppsala since the 1950s, at the time owned by Pharmacia. The protein separation by gel filtration still part of GE’s product portfolio is based on the research by two Nobel Prize winners in Chemistry: Theodor Svedberg (1926) and Arne Tiselius (1948) both from Uppsala University. They developed techniques for separation and characterisation of proteins and started collaborating with the industry.

One late night during 1957, as a young scientist from the Tiselius group was leaving the lab, he made a mistake. The mistake would be a turning point for his professor, Jerker Porath, and lead to the remarkable discovery of Sephadex (SEparation PHArmacia DEXtran, the chromatography medium launched in 1959.

Because the young scientist forgot to turn on the power switch when he left the lab that night, Jerker Porath realized that a gel made of crosslinked dextran could be used to separate macromolecules, without applying electrical current. The molecular separation was based purely on size. This technique is also referred to as gel filtration or size exclusion chromatography. 

Healthcare strong

GE’s life sciences business continues to see year-on-year growth of upwards of 8%, while many of its bioprocessing lines are seeing double-digits.

But as a multinational conglomerate, General Electric Co has been heavily underperforming, and yesterday CEO John Flannery said in an investor meeting his management team was looking to address this through a refocused vision and the potential divestment of a number of businesses.

He also announced GE was cutting both the dividend and its 2018 earnings forecast by half, causing share price to fall to a one year low.

However, in his vision of a future GE, Healthcare features highly and while specifics were not divulged he said the firm planned investments to lead in a number of areas, including precision health, biopharma tools and digitisation.

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