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.

“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."

RELATED: Merck KGaA expands viral, cell therapy production capacity in U.S.

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. 

RELATED: Daiichi Sankyo inks $200M licensing deal with Ultragenyx to boost gene therapy manufacturing

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.

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