Pfizer bolsters North Carolina manufacturing footprint with Abzena plant purchase

A week after hiring Matt Stober to take over as CEO, Abzena has sold a new biologics drug substance facility in Sanford, North Carolina, to Pfizer for an undisclosed sum.

Pfizer, which already operates a gene therapy manufacturing site in Sanford, will produce pipeline products at the new facility. The company also plans to add capacity and will seek to collaborate with Abzena on complex contract manufacturing projects, Pfizer said.

U.K.-based CDMO Abzena had grand designs for the plant when it revealed less than two years ago that it was pouring $200 million into its construction. The site in Sanford was intended to meet increasing demand for late-stage and commercial production of biologics.

At the time, plans called for Abzena to use a phased approach to construction, starting with four modular suites, each with up to two 2,000-liter bioreactors. Another pair of suites also were planned for the site, which was designed to eventually employ 325 people and be complete by the end of 2022.

The facility currently employs 100 people, Pfizer said Monday, with its plans calling for a staff of roughly 300 by 2025. The site will bring Pfizer’s head count in North Carolina to more than 4,500. Of the $5 billion the company has invested to grow its manufacturing footprint in the U.S. since 2017, $1.4 billion has been for facilities in the Tar Heel State.

The network includes a 1.4 million-square-foot site in Rocky Mount, which the company calls “one of the largest sterile injectable plants in the world.” A year ago, Pfizer opened an 85,000-square-foot gene therapy facility in Durham. It also has a plant 10 miles to the south in Morrisville for gene therapy preclinical process development and regulatory toxicology manufacturing.

Connecting the dots on the Abzena deal isn’t difficult. From 2013 to 2015, Stober was senior VP of operations at Hospira, where he helped turn the CDMO around before its sale to Pfizer in a $17 billion deal.

Specializing in the development and manufacture of antibody-drug conjugates and biologic molecules, Abzena has other plants in San Diego, Bristol, Pa., and Cambridge, U.K. The company is owned by private equity investors Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe and Biospring Partners. In April of last year, Abzena revealed a $65 million injection of funds from its owners.

Its CEO at the time, Jonathan Goldman, departed last month after guiding the company for four years. When Abzena tapped Stober as its new CEO, it also revealed it had added three new members to its board to guide Stober through “its next phase of growth.”