GlaxoSmithKline said last week that it would back out of antibiotic manufacturing in the U.K., slashing hundreds of jobs in the process. Now, an up-and-coming contract manufacturer is swooping in to build a new factory next door to one of GSK’ soon-to-be-closed plants.
Fledgling CDMO Lakes BioScience has raised £350 million ($490 million) in funding to build a monoclonal antibody factory on land in Ulverston, England, that GSK abandoned in 2017. Lakes got a local thumbs up to start the project just days after GSK said it would shutter its Ulverston plant and cut the last 130 jobs at the site.
Lakes aims to establish a CDMO business with that funding from London-based private equity firm Star Capital Partnership, director Pat McIver told the news outlet BioProcess Insider. Its next step is attracting its first clients to kick off construction.
Local officials think GSK could help. Simon Fell, MP for Barrow and Furness, wrote Prime Minister Boris Johnson "asking the UK Government to press GSK into backing a local business—Lakes BioScience," British newspaper The Mail reports.
"It is our belief that GSK should provide the first keystone supply contract to enable the release of Lakes BioScience's funding and so that the project build at Ulverston to go ahead," Fell wrote.
Lakes, for its part, expects to hire 250 employees and could even tap some of the talent leaving GSK’s antibiotics factory “just yards” from the CDMO’s project site, McIver told BioProcess.
“GSK’s announcement that they will close their plant in 2025 unless they find an alternative use for the factory is set to result in an erosion of UK medicines resilience,” McIver said in a release. Once Lakes snares its first contracts, it will submit the second stage of its planning application to start above-ground work, he added.
“Then we can start producing modern medicines which help the UK’s resilience and start to build the exciting future which Ulverston, Cumbria and the UK deserves,” McIver continued.
It will take some 15 to 18 months to wrap construction on the plant, McIverson told BioProcess, adding that it was too early to say when building would begin.
GSK last week agreed to sell the rights to antibiotic brands Zinnat, Zinacef and Fortum to Novartis’ generics unit Sandoz for $500 million. GSK makes Zinnat at its U.K. sites in Ulverston and Barnard Castle in County Durham. The Barnard Castle site will continue turning out other GSK products, but Ulverston is closing down for good. All told, 130 Ulverston employees and 170 staffers in Barnard Castle’s Zinnat business will lose their jobs.
The move comes as GSK pivots away from its older antibiotics to home in on vaccines and specialty drugs, including “innovative antibiotics,” the company said.
The British Big Pharma has been running its Ulverston plant since 1948. It had previously hoped to build a biopharma factory on the land Lakes is using, before shelving the project in 2017. With that design in the rearview, GSK donated the real estate to the community for economic development.