Amgen opens $200M continuous purification plant in Singapore

Amgen CEO Robert Bradway

Amgen CEO Robert Bradway hinted several years ago that the company was on the "cusp" of a new manufacturing process for making cell-based drugs that would upend the industry, being faster and cheaper. Today, Amgen ($AMGN) said that time has arrived, with completion in Singapore of a $200 million plant that incorporates continuous processing.

The Thousand Oaks, CA-based biotech said the plant in Tuas uses single-use bioreactors, disposable plastic containers, continuous purification processing and real-time quality analysis for monoclonal antibody manufacturing. Started in early 2013, it was built in less than two years, about half the time it would have taken to build a conventional manufacturing plant. It also will have the same capacity as a conventional plant but occupy a single building. It will use less water and less energy while producing fewer solid wastes and fewer emissions.

"At Amgen, we are reinventing what it means to manufacture biologic medicines," Bradway said today in a statement.

The flexible, modular design is easily copied, the company said, and Amgen will do just that. It is staring in on work on a second facility at the site in Tuas that will manufacture carfilzomib, the active ingredient for Kyprolis, the multiple myeloma drug it scored in its $10.4 billion buyout last year of Onyx Pharmaceuticals.

When the company announced deep job and cost cuts in July, including at manufacturing facilties in Colorado and Washington, Bradway said that the company would be "exiting 20-year-old manufacturing technologies and continuing to invest in what we think are state-of-the-art, cutting-edge technologies that will enable us to rationalize and, we think, make product more reliably and more cost effectively."

Continuous processing facilities that do away with the need for batch work are expected to be the next big advance in drug manufacturing and used in at least some aspects of production. Other drugmakers, like GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) are building plants utilizing the technology and Singapore appears to be the place to build them. GSK is working on a $50 million continuous manufacturing plant in Singapore that CEO Andrew Witty said will be 100 square meters instead of the usual 900 and so result in a "massive reduction in capital deployment" reducing costs by about 50%.

- here's Amgen's announcement