Construction of the facility in Braine l’Alleud, Belgium is due to start soon. If all goes to plan, UCB will bring the plant online in 2024, providing it with commercial-scale biologics capacity to support its pipeline and portfolio of monoclonal antibodies.
The investment reflects the changing composition of UCB’s pipeline and portfolio. Today, UCB lists 10 biologics and two small molecules in its clinical-phase pipeline. Early in 2018, UCB’s pipeline featured nine biologics and four small molecules. Further back, UCB’s pipeline was dominated by small molecules.
Kirsten Lund-Jurgensen, EVP and head of supply and technology at UCB, framed the investment as a consequence of the changes to the pipeline.
Lund-Jurgensen said, “The shift of our pipeline towards large molecules requires us to ramp up investment in mammalian technical development, as well as our manufacturing capabilities. And the presence of our Biotech Sciences Team, Bio-Pilot plant and diverse research capabilities on the same site will ensure accelerated product launches and supply reliability.”
UCB’s Braine l’Alleud site, which employs around 1,800 people, has experienced some tough times as the company has gradually transitioned from small molecules to biologics. In 2008 and 2009, UCB laid off around 500 people at the site as part of an effort to remove drugs that offered low returns from its portfolio.
The seeds for the revitalisation of Braine l’Alleud were planted around the same time when UCB put €65m ($72m) into a pilot plant designed to manufacture biologics for use in clinical trials – the same pilot plant has supported UCB’s growing pipeline and portfolio of biologics.
In the first half of 2019, biologics accounted for around 38% of UCB’s revenues, a slight increase over the previous year. The trend reflects double-digit growth of Cimzia (certolizumab pegol), a biologic treatment for chronic inflammatory conditions, and similarly steep declines in sales of established small molecules.
The composition of UCB’s clinical-phase pipeline suggests the proportion of its sales derived from biologics will increase in the coming years.
Evenity (romosozumab), a biologic treatment for metabolic bone diseases, won approval in Europe last month. A clutch of biologics against diseases including myasthenia gravis, psoriasis and systemic lupus erythematosus are following Evenity down the pipeline, leading UCB to conclude it will need extra capacity in the future.