Celltrion plots $453M South Korean expansion to aid ambitious biosimilar pipeline push: report

Celltrion plant
Celltrion's third manufacturing site will add about 33% capacity to its current footprint. (Celltrion)

South Korea's Celltrion has made its name recently with biosimilar copies of big-name blockbusters, and it has plans to add even more in the coming years. To get there, Celltrion is betting big on an ambitious R&D and manufacturing expansion at its existing South Korea hub.

Celltrion plans to drop $453 million into building a third manufacturing site and R&D center at its Songdo, South Korea, complex that will eventually bring on 3,000 more workers, the Korea Biomedical Review reported.

During a Wednesday forum, Celltrion said the R&D portion of the site would be completed by July 2022, while the plant would finish construction in May 2023 and then hopefully go online in June 2024.

The plant will add 60,000 liters of capacity to Celltrion's manufacturing footprint—an increase of about 33% from the company's current capacity of 190,000 liters, according to the report.

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But Celltrion isn't done: The company is reportedly planning on a fourth manufacturing plant, but it didn't provide a specific timetable for that project. The facility could be the same one the company announced in January—a 120,000-liter project in China.

Celltrion's expansion comes as it continues to grow its portfolio in biosimilars, a potentially lucrative field given the FDA's growing rate of approvals for those copycats.

Celltrion is hoping to roll out 10 new biosims in the coming decade, adding to its current copies of Roche's oncology blockbusters Herceptin and Avastin as well as Johnson & Johnson's immunology drug Remicade. The company is also working to develop an oral biosim version of Remicade alongside Intract Pharma.  

In January, Celltrion Chairman Seo Jung-jin forecast the company would lay out $33.6 billion on its pharma business over the next decade. It intends to invest in its biologics operations and ingredient businesses as well as artificial intelligence to create an e-commerce market for its drugs.

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Celltrion isn't the only drugmaker making waves in South Korea: Samsung Biologics is also plotting a major expansion in the country to meet growing demand abroad.

In August, Samsung unveiled plans for a $2 billion "super plant" at its Incheon, South Korea, hub, with a footprint as large as its other three facilities combined. The ambitious facility will encompass 2.56 million square feet of floor space and 256,000 liters of capacity—nearly doubling the CDMO's overall capacity to 620,000 liters, Samsung said. The plant is set to go online in 2022.