Genentech's California biologics facility will support launches in cancer, neuroscience and more: exec

From modular production equipment and robotics to sustainable building materials, Genentech is pulling out all the stops at its new launch center in Oceanside, California.

Last week, the Roche unit unveiled a $450 million manufacturing investment in Oceanside, some $280 million of which will help fuel the build-out of a new biologics plant designed around sustainability and modular production, Nazeli Dertsakian, vice president and general manager of Oceanside biologics operations at Genentech, said in an interview.

The rest of Roche’s outlay will be used to beef up Genentech’s existing Oceanside plant, where the company plans to upgrade or install new equipment and “intensify” production, Dertsakian said. As it stands, the company's current Oceanside facility cranks out a suite of marketed therapies such as Xolair, Actemra, Avastin and Rituxan.

At the new plant, construction is expected to wrap up by the third quarter of 2024. Genentech is pitching the plant as a companion facility to the clinical supply center it established in South San Francisco last August.

“Our facility in Oceanside will essentially be a replica of that facility,” Dertsakian explained.

The plants’ parallel design should allow Genentech to pivot from clinical to commercial production “in a much faster way,” she added.

Dertsakian credited that anticipated speed, in part, to the new plant’s modular design, which will leverage a ballroom layout to save physical space and increase the pace at which Genentech can pivot between production projects. The company also hopes to be able to produce smaller batches of personalized medicines and therapies for rare diseases at the plant.

“Nothing is bolted,” Dertsakian said, noting that equipment will be mobile on the ballroom floor to help Genentech “leverage the footprint of the facility in the best possible way.”

This modular approach should also streamline the introduction of new technologies, Dertsakian said.

As for other technology being loaded into the plant, Genentech is eyeing artificial intelligence to monitor processes and make them more efficient, Dertsakian said. The company will also leverage virtual reality to train its employees—something that’s “already in place in a lot of our facilities,” according to the exec.

The company is further weighing whether robots could chip in on certain activities like material movement and storage, too, she said.

Aside from the emphasis on next-gen production technologies, the new Oceanside plant is being blueprinted with the planet’s health in mind. Given its modular design, the facility will occupy much less physical space than a traditional manufacturing plant. Genentech is also looking to leverage sustainable materials and furnishings for its build-out.

Genentech hasn’t confirmed which drugs it will produce at the new facility, but “because it is a launch facility, we will be bringing a lot of the drugs coming out of our South San Francisco clinical supply center into Oceanside,” Dertsakian said. The plant will likely produce drugs in fields such as oncology, neuroscience and hematology, she said.

When it comes to looming commercial prospects in Genentech’s pipeline, the Roche subsidiary is armed with a plethora of late-stage cancer candidates, such as giredestrant in breast cancer.

Some of Genentech’s most-advanced neuroscience programs, meanwhile, include the Duchenne muscular dystrophy prospect delandistrogene moxeparvovec and fenebrutinib for multiple sclerosis.

On the hematology front, Roche is advancing the phase 3 antibody emicizumab in hemophilia A.

Genentech’s biologics expansion will create around 150 new jobs at a time when many laid-off life sciences staffers are likely looking for work. The Roche subsidiary is planning to hire technicians, analytical technology experts, process scientists, data analysts, data engineers and robotics engineers, to name a few. Genentech has already kicked off the hiring process for the new Oceanside plant, Dertsakian said.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct references to Genentech's pipeline.