Nephron looks to break into COVID-19 vaccine territory with $216M investment

As major drugmakers crusade for a COVID-19 vaccine, the problem of securing enough manufacturing capacity for global distribution has grown more acute. Seeing a future opportunity, one U.S. generics maker is making a big down payment to boost its own shot offerings. 

South Carolina-based generics maker Nephron Pharmaceuticals will pump $215.8 million into its vaccine fill-finish capacity and warehousing space as part of an expansion effort in the state. The drugmaker will aim to employ 380 new workers at the Saxe-Gotha Industrial Park site in Lexington County by 2024, Nephron said in a release. 

CEO Lou Kennedy

According to CEO Lou Kennedy, Nephron's newest expansion follows a period of explosive growth around its generic inhalation and suspension products—some of which are used to treat COVID-19 patients—since the company moved its headquarters to South Carolina in 2015. Nephron is also the largest 503(b) outsourcing facility in the U.S. that produces medicines for hospital shortages, Kennedy said.

Nephron has been in communication with two "large pharmas" to use the drugmaker's new vaccine space, which Kennedy said could be online as soon as the first quarter of 2021. That timeline would lock Nephron out of the earliest days of manufacturing a potential COVID-19 shot, but Kennedy is hopeful the company could chip in on the effort down the road. 

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In May, Nephron welcomed GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who touted the drugmaker's role in producing American-made drugs at a time when scrutiny of medicines made in China has never been higher. Kennedy told FiercePharma that her company's mission has been to produce affordable medicines of the highest quality for U.S. patients

"We raise our hands, we want to be counted, we're Americans, and we're ready to go," Kennedy said. 

Nephron's expansion plans follow a five-year build-out in South Carolina that cost around $400 million; the company now employs around 2,000 full- and part-time workers there, Kennedy said.

The drugmaker will self-fund this latest expansion, but Kennedy said she would be open to considering federal funding similar to recent deals from the Department of Health and Human Services' Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Agency (BARDA)

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