With calls for American-made drugs on the rise, a Michigan CDMO is scaling up to meet demand

Grand River Aseptic Manufacturing
Grand River Aseptic Manufacturing now has more than 10,000 square feet of manufacturing space at its Grand Rapids, Michigan, hub. (GRAM)

"Onshore" manufacturing has become a bit of a buzzword term in the age of COVID-19 as lawmakers push for a stable drug supply chain on U.S. soil. But for small CDMO Grand River Aseptic Manufacturing (GRAM), that made-in-America ethos is stamped in its DNA, and a brand-new finish-fill plant could help it target even more U.S. drugmakers.

Michigan-based GRAM completed a $60 million expansion to install a "large-scale" fill-finish injectables facility that it will market primarily to U.S drugmakers, the company said Tuesday.

The new 60,000-square-foot facility in downtown Grand Rapids will triple GRAM's manufacturing footprint to more than 100,000 square feet of production space and help level up the company's sterile injectables offerings, according to a release. The newest fill-finish plant is GRAM's third, the company said, and its fifth manufacturing facility overall.

In its 10th year in business, GRAM has been able to afford its rapid scale-up through strong growth and its reputation as a high-quality manufacturing partner in the heart of the Midwest, CEO Tom Ross told Fierce Pharma.

GRAM plans to market its new manufacturing space to a stable of existing customers as well as drugmakers looking to "onshore" their manufacturing back on U.S. soil. That strategic direction stems from GRAM's unique position as an American-made company but also a response to a growing need for domestic contract manufacturers.

"The ability to grow off the same base and focus the culture around quality and service is critical," Ross said. "The opportunity is there for us to continue to meet that demand."

Ross declined to say how many employees will eventually work at the newest facility given room for future growth at the site.

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The Michigan CDMO is part of a growing wave of manufacturers and drugmakers pitching their domestic footprint as lawmakers make a hard push to bring drug production back stateside in the wake of COVID-19.

That political interest has caught investors' eyes. For instance, private equity firm Lincoln Equities Group said last week it was marketing a 433-acre, former Bristol Myers Squibb R&D and manufacturing campus in Hopewell, New Jersey, as a possible new home for an onshoring drugmaker.

Lincoln put the former Bristol site on the market with a specifically nationalist bent, angling for drugmakers that are part of the U.S. government's efforts to build onshore production of pandemic-related drugs.

"Given the current public health crisis, we anticipate pharmaceutical and life sciences manufacturers to consider ‘reshoring’ and expanding operations in the U.S.,” Lincoln President Joel Bergstein said in a release.

RELATED: As U.S. calls for stateside manufacturing, antibiotic maker Paratek gambles on 'onshoring' effort

Meanwhile, some drugmakers have benefited from the government's explicit funding of their onshoring attempts.

Earlier this month, antibiotics maker Paratek told Fierce Pharma it would be kick-starting a three-year plan to build a government-funded, second supply chain in the U.S. in an effort to flesh out the nation's strategic supply of pandemic response drugs.

The U.S. government, through its Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), has dumped $285 million into helping Paratek build the U.S. supply line, which will stand apart from its current manufacturing network in Europe, CEO Evan Loh said.

In late May, BARDA also floated a four-year, $354 million contract with a fledgling company, Virginia-based Phlow Corporation, to build a generic medicine and API plant in Richmond, Virginia, and supply COVID-19 treatments produced there. That deal can be expanded up to 10 years and to a total of $812 million, making it among the largest in BARDA's history.

Baltimore-based Emergent BioSolutions won a $628 million deal with the government in early June to scale production of targeted COVID-19 vaccine candidates to make "tens to hundreds of millions" of doses available through 2021, the CDMO said.

RELATED: Trump picks little-known U.S. firm to spearhead $354M pandemic drug pact

For GRAM, though, the goals aren't so specifically nationalistic. Ross said the CDMO could eventually work with global partners but so far is sticking to what it knows best: Western Michigan and partners in the fill-finish space.

"Potentially, in the future, we’ll look for acquisitions, but for right now our focus is on the current space," Ross said.

Ross touted the company's workforce of around 200 as part of its strength, including workers that started as recent college grads and have grown with the company as it expanded. By investing solely in Grand Rapids, Ross hopes to keep the band together into the near future.

"This is somewhat of a unique advantage getting to train employees up from from recent grads," Ross said. "That's something that's extremely important to us."