Fujifilm starts build-out for massive NC plant, the latest piece of its multibillion-dollar CDMO expansion effort

Earlier this month, when Fujifilm Diosynth broke ground in North Carolina on a facility destined to become its showcase, the occasion was more about the company than the plant.  

While the $2 billion complex will eventually house 725 employees and is billed as the largest end-to-end biologics production plant in the world, it's just one of several investments Tokyo-based Fujifilm has undertaken in its campaign to build CDMO capacity.

“We’re spending this much is because we need this much capability to support our partners with the projects they’ve got,” said Fujifilm Diosynth CEO Martin Meeson.

Such is the ready market these days for manufacturers like Diosynth. Even before the pandemic, the market was flooded with too many projects and not enough CDMOs. Now the backlog is even more pronounced.

“One of the things that we did learn from the pandemic is that there is probably a little more demand out there,” Meeson said. “We already had all of this demand that had nothing to do with COVID and now you’ve kind of built that on top of that.”

These are invigorating days for Diosynth as it considers its future as a major CDMO player. The status change is a result of a spending spree by its parent company.

In June 2020, Fujifilm pledged a $928 million investment at Diosynth’s site in Hillerod, Denmark, to double its cell culture manufacturing capacity and add drug product manufacturing. Just a year earlier, Fujifilm acquired the site from Biogen for $890 million.

This past June, Fujifilm committed $850 million to its subsidiary to increase manufacturing capacity for biologics such as gene therapies and vaccines. As part of the effort, Fujifilm is emphasizing viral vector manufacturing. A year ago, only one of Diosynth’s sites—in College Station, Texas—had the capability. But now there are three as Watertown, Massachusetts, and Teeside, England, have joined the party.

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Diosynth’s planned mega-plant is in Holly Springs, in the Raleigh-Durham Research Triangle. Due for completion in 2025, it will churn out antibodies and other therapeutics. Diosynth won’t do anything particularly new at the site; it will just be able to do it at a larger scale and handle products from start to finish.

With eight 20,000-liter bioreactors—and the capacity to add 24 more—Diosynth will manufacture large-scale, cell culture bulk substance. It also will perform automated fill-finish, assembly, packaging and labeling.

Why Holly Springs? Messon was quick to point to the support of local jurisdictions. Wake County and Holly Springs have provided a combined $90 million in incentives, on top of $33.5 million from the state, said the Triangle Business Journal. The lucrative package is in anticipation of the tax revenue and commerce boost provided by a plant that will pay an average annual salary of more than $95,000.

Still, Holly Springs couldn’t match the offer Diosynth received to locate the plant in Texas, which was reportedly $300 million. But the deciding factor, according to the report, was the speed with which the company could bring the project online in North Carolina.

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After all, time is of the essence in the current CDMO landscape, as customers are waiting to be served. Meeson said that during the third quarter, Diosynth’s five sites handled some 150 projects. Many more await in the coming years.

“We can see the expansion of the pipelines that we’re bringing in today,” Meeson said. “We’re tech transferring products in. We’re talking to our partners about their future pipelines. We can really see that that demand will continue to grow. We are trying to make it so we can match the supply with our capability.”