Merck KGaA amps up in gene therapy with $110M viral vector manufacturing boost

A rendering of MilliporeSigma's $110 million viral vector manufacturing facility expansion (MilliporeSigma)

Merck KGaA and subsidiary MilliporeSigma are doubling down on their gene therapy bets with a hefty nine-figure investment into expanded viral vector production.

MilliporeSigma will spend $110 million to open a second viral vector facility in Carlsbad, California, to "more than double" its gene therapy manufacturing capacity, the company said Tuesday.

The new, 140,000-square-foot expansion will add to MilliporeSigma's existing work at the site, which has been involved in gene therapy manufacturing since 1997 and currently employs around 175 workers, a spokeswoman said.

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“Viral vector manufacturing has transitioned from a niche industry to the cornerstone of the future of biopharmaceuticals,” MilliporeSigma CEO Udit Batra said in a release. “Few companies have the scale and quality systems in place for manufacturing commercial viral vector products."

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In 2016, MilliporeSigma first doubled its production capacity at the Carlsbad site, adding 21,000 square feet to the facility's footprint. The addition included 16 modular bulk manufacturing cleanroom suites with single-use equipment and two fill/finish suites for gene therapy, viral vaccine and immunotherapy products. 

With the expansion, the company will add 11 suites, bringing the total to 27. 

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MilliporeSigma launched its 2016 expansion as then-new Merck Group CEO Stefan Oschmann looked to turn the page from years of stagnant growth at the German drugmaker. Merck KGaA joined a suite of drugmakers that have invested heavily in viral vector manufacturing in recent years.

In early 2019, Catalent dropped $1.2 billion to grab viral vector and gene therapy manufacturer Paragon Bioservices, and Thermo Fisher shelled out $1.7 billion to snare viral vector producer Brammer Bio.

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Thermo Fisher now has a facility in Massachusetts, along with others, while Catalent added one in Baltimore. Other contractors are adding or expanding facilities in the U.S., Europe and Asia.