WuXi to bulk up cell therapy manufacturing in Philadelphia

WuXi CEO Ge Li

After announcing aggressive expansion plans for 2015 to the tune of $200 million earlier this month, WuXi PharmaTech ($WX) gave some indication last week of just how it intends to grow--for starters, it'll build a 145,000-square-foot cell therapy manufacturing plant in Philadelphia.

At the plant's planned opening in mid-2016, it will be the company's third cell therapy facility in that city, joining an already-existing 16,000-square-foot facility and a 45,000-square-foot plant slated for opening in the second quarter of this year. The 206,000 square feet of capacity will help it meet its anticipated market needs of clinical and commercial production for cell-therapy companies, it said in a release.

Cell therapy products, such as CAR-T cells, are an important new treatment option for cancer patients, WuXi CEO Ge Li said in a release, adding that "WuXi aims to be at the forefront of this area of providing our partners with cutting-edge cGMP manufacturing capabilities and capacities."

The announcement comes on the heels of a successful 2014 for the CRO giant as it posted 16.6% growth in the year to revenue of $674.3 million. As it announced its 2014 results, the CRO said it would spend up to $200 million on capital projects, nearly double 2014's total, to build out manufacturing outposts in China and expand its genomics lab capacity. Driving the revenue increase was a 23.8% growth in contract manufacturing and a 14.2% increase in its lab services business.

In February, WuXi secured a $165 million loan to pay for recent expansions in China and the U.S. It'll spend $40 million between the two new Philadelphia plants. It's also growing in China in Changzhou and Wuxi city, and will invest "aggressively" in new businesses in 2015 "to seize opportunities for further growth," it said in a release.

And while WuXi has staked out its site in Philadelphia, South Korean bio pharma Green Cross announced its plan to build a cell therapy manufacturing facility in China's Guizhou province to distribute its products in China.

WuXi and Green Cross join a host of companies hoping to capitalize on growing developments in areas such as cancer immunotherapy by offering contract cell manufacturing. Last week, Orgenesis acquired contract development and manufacturing company MaSTherCell to further its capabilities in the field, while Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies said last year it would add identical 2000-L single-use bioreactors to its plants in Research Triangle Park, NC, and Billingham, U.K.

- here's the release