Emergent plots $75M expansion to produce viral vectors for expanding gene therapy business

Maryland-based Emergent BioSolutions has worked its way to the front lines of the COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing field with a suite of deals to produce U.S. supply. But Emergent has more on its mind than a coronavirus shot, and it's taking its chances in an increasingly lucrative gene therapy market.

Emergent will spend $75 million to add space at its Canton, Massachusetts, live viral vaccine facility to manufacture viral vectors for its growing gene therapy business, the company said Thursday.

The outlay will tack on a "multi-suite operation" at the Canton site, which Emergent acquired from Sanofi in 2017, to add 1,000 liters of viral vector capacity. The company expects to go live with the new operation in 2023.

The addition is part of Emergent's plan to create a "molecule-to-market" gene therapy CDMO, with the Canton site handling viral vector production, development services headquartered at its Gaithersburg location and drug product manufacturing at its Rockville site.

The Rockville, Maryland, site is in the middle of its own significant expansion that is scheduled to be operational at the end of 2021, Emergent said.

Adding capacity at Canton will also allow Emergent to secure its supply chain for its single-dose smallpox vaccine, ACAM2000, which the company acquired from Sanofi for $125 million.

RELATED: Gilead sees better days ahead for CAR-T therapy Yescarta with Amsterdam manufacturing hub online

Emergent's dive into the field comes as drugmakers across the board have made hefty investments in the cell and gene therapy space despite the high cost and complex production processes.

Last week, Gilead Sciences said the European Medicines Agency (EMA) had approved its newest CAR-T manufacturing facility at the Amsterdam Airport, where it first inked a lease two years ago.

The facility, operated by Gilead's Kite unit, will house European production for cell therapy Yescarta, which won an EMA approval back in August 2018 to treat relapsed or refractory diffuse large B-cell lymphoma and primary mediastinal large B-cell lymphoma.

Gilead is one of a few drugmakers that have not only made big investments in manufacturing gene therapies for delivery into the body but also the viral vectors necessary to create the modified cells in the first place. In July, the drugmaker announced it would build a 67,000-square-foot facility at its Oceanside, California, biologics site just for developing those viral vectors.

RELATED: AstraZeneca, Emergent BioSolutions sign $87M deal to produce U.S. supply of COVID-19 vaccine

The Canton expansion comes as Emergent has taken center stage as the U.S. manufacturer of choice for supplies of potential COVID-19 vaccines.

Last week, AstraZeneca and Emergent BioSolutions inked an $87 million deal to manufacture doses of the University of Oxford's adenovirus-based COVID-19 shot for U.S. supply. The manufacturing accord is part of the Trump administration's Operation Warp Speed initiative to develop and rapidly scale production of targeted vaccines before the end of 2020.

As part of the agreement, Emergent will reserve large-scale manufacturing capacity for Oxford's vaccine candidate, AZD1222, at its Baltimore Bayview facility through 2020. The company will also provide contract development manufacturing services to aid AstraZeneca's goal of producing more than 2 billion shots per year by 2021, Emergent said.

RELATED: Emergent BioSolutions, BARDA reach $628M deal to manufacture COVID-19 vaccine hopefuls

Earlier in the month, Emergent signed a $628 million deal with the Department of Health and Human Services' Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to scale production of targeted COVID-19 vaccines to make "tens to hundreds of millions" of doses available through 2021.

The government agreed to shell out $542.7 million to reserve bulk manufacturing capacity at the Bayview plant, which was constructed as part of a BARDA pandemic preparedness contract signed in 2012. The remaining $85.5 million will be spent expanding fill/finish capacity at two Emergent plants at Camden in Baltimore and Rockville.

Emergent has also inked deals with Johnson & Johnson and Novavax to produce doses of their own COVID-19 hopefuls.