WuXi Biologics Takes ‘First Giant Step’ Out of China with 54,000 L plant

WuXi Biologics will invest €325 million (US$390 million) in its first production site outside of China. The Irish site will be fully disposable, the CDMO told BioProcess Insider.  

The contract development and manufacturing organization (CDMO) is looking to construct a single-use site with 54,000 L of disposable bioreactor capacity through a €325 million investment in Mullagharlin, County Louth, Ireland.

When GMP ready in 2021, the site will be equipped with twelve 4,000-L fed-batch bioreactors and six 1,000-L bioreactors for perfusion, Chris Chen, CEO of WuXi Biologics, told BioProcess Insider.

Around half of the new capacity will be used for existing customers while the remaining is “anticipated demand as we have 161 biologics molecules in development,” Chen said.

First Step Outside China

The greenfield site is the first foray outside of China for WuXi Biologics.

According to Chen, the location was chosen to serve local companies and expand its customer base in the European Union (EU).

Ireland has a long heritage in pharmaceutical manufacturing, and has seen heavy investment in biomanufacturing capabilities. AbbVie, Eli Lilly, Janssen and Merck & Co. have all made multi-million dollar investments in the country over the past year.

Chen also told us “access to key talent” drove the decision, and around 400 jobs are likely to be created through the investment.

He added the Ireland site marks “a first giant step” for WuXi as an international CDMO, and said there will be “more to continue.”

Single-Use Bioreactors: Breaking the ‘Plastic’ Ceiling

In December, WuXi Biologics opened the world’s largest commercial biologics manufacturing facility using only single-use bioreactors in Wuxi City, China. The site boasts 14 disposable bioreactor systems, each 2,000 L.

When it comes to single-use most of the major bioprocessing firms have a 2,000-L bag limit due to pressure challenges from increased weight of the liquid medium in larger volume bags, coupled with the significant learning curve for an end-user to manage.

Chen did not divulge which vendors would supply the 4,000-L bioreactors at the Ireland site,

Bethlehem, Pennsylvania-headquartered firm ABEC is one vendor which offers disposable systems beyond the standard size. ABEC launched a 4,300-L bioreactor (with 3,500 L of working volume) in 2015, describing it at the time as the largest single-use bioreactor available in the industry. And last year it launched a larger offering: a 4,900-L system with a 4,000 L working volume.

In March, WuXi struck a deal with ABEC, selecting six of the larger systems to run in parallel at a new facility (MFG4) at its Wuxi City site. Once operational the new plant will add 24,000 L of commercial manufacturing capacity.

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