Astellas Makes Big Commitment to Gene Therapy with New NC Facility

Astellas_Yuriko Nakao/Getty Images

Yuriko Nakao/Getty Images

Astellas Gene Therapies, an Astellas Center of Excellence, is celebrating the opening of its newest facility. Located in Sanford, North Carolina, the new large-scale manufacturing facility will help Astellas increase its manufacturing capabilities and achieve greater scalability and affordability for gene therapies.

The 135,000-square-foot standalone building is located at 6074 Enterprise Park Drive in Sanford. The facility will be good manufacturing practices (GMP) compliant to help Astellas achieve clinical- and commercial-scale manufacturing capabilities for its pipeline of adeno-associated virus (AAV) products. AAV is a type of virus that can be engineered to deliver DNA or other therapeutic payloads to target cells. In-house quality control testing will also be housed within the facility.

The new space will enable Astellas to establish a global supply chain of gene therapies as well as widen the scope of the therapeutic products it creates. The company hopes the building will spur continual learning and sharing of knowledge among employees to speed up the drug development process as they investigate its main three therapy modalities: gene replacement, exon skipping gene therapy and vectorized RNA knockdown.

“The event today was the perfect way for us to launch the site,” Mathew Pletcher, Ph.D., senior vice president and division head of gene therapy research and technical operations at Astellas Gene Therapies, said in an interview with BioSpace. “With new space, we can drive our own innovations and capabilities, but beyond that, we’re solving a problem that is industry-wide: being able to manufacture AAV-based gene therapies efficiently. This will help us meet our own needs as well as those of the global supply chain."

Pletcher also addressed opening a new site in the current biotech economy.  

"Right now, global biotech companies are being forced to shrink their portfolios or slow down programs because they can’t find, or can’t afford, the manufacturing capacity. Now, we can step up as a partner and provide the manufacturing power to get your products to patients faster. This is part of an overall strategy to be a partner of choice in the gene therapy space," he said.

In an earlier press release, Pletcher said that Sanford's manufacturing capabilities would enable the company to “produce materials for multiple programs in parallel as opposed to in sequence and offer commercial-scale manufacturing ability to any future approved therapies.” He further called it “critical to rapidly [advancing] our programs and [driving] the next phase of growth for Astellas."

The area is already a hotspot for biopharma and manufacturing companies, and Astellas’ employees will be able to share scientific insights and a cup of coffee with neighbors at the nearby Pfizer manufacturing plant.

Astellas is investing roughly $100 million into the facility, and the company said it expects to create more than 200 jobs between now and 2026. Astellas specifically chose this location because of its proximity to talent to fill those 200 open roles.

"Sanford, North Carolina is a premier location for Astellas Gene Therapies to expand its manufacturing operations. Our state's skilled workforce, leading academic institutions and healthy business environment provide all the resources they need to foster innovation and continued success," North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said.

Astellas is far from the only biopharma company to recently expand its real estate footprint. Merck is adding 160,000 square feet and 100 new employees to its facility in Cambridge, Massachusetts to help advance its research. The company is looking to fill positions for interdisciplinary biochemists at the facility previously belonging to Idenix Pharmaceuticals. Also in Cambridge, Sanofi officially flung open the doors to a cutting-edge 900,000-square-foot campus at Cambridge Crossing on Wednesday. The structure of the new site will enable Sanofi to strengthen collaborative efforts between its medical, research and development and specialty care business units, among other functions.

And in May, Element Biosciences held a ribbon-cutting event to celebrate its new headquarters at the Alexandria Tech Center in San Diego. The 186,000-square-foot, five-story office is half labs and half general office space, giving Element room to work on its DNA sequencing Aviti System.

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