Just weeks after announcing intentions to snap up biologics firm MedImmune, AstraZeneca has acquired DSM's old biologics manufacturing facility in Montreal, Canada, a site that's been gathering dust since it was mothballed by the firm last year.
Financial terms of the purchase were not disclosed, but this is just the latest move by AstraZeneca as it drives to establish a strong foothold in the growing biopharmaceutical market.
The company plans to manufacture antibody drug candidates for clinical trials at the 66,000 sq ft. facility, with full-scale production scheduled for 2009 after work to re-commission the facility has been completed.
The Montreal facility is relatively new, having only been an investment target for DSM back in 2002/2003. Original plans for the plant included four fermentors (with combined capacity of over 60,000 litres) and full downstream processing capabilities with the plant built in a modular design featuring separated production lines.
The plant was destined to produce monoclonal antibodies and recombinant proteins based on mammalian cell culture technology, with the first phase of the construction (the outer shell and first 30,000 litre production line) costing around €100m.
Unfortunately, DSM's hopes for the plant didn't work out as planned. Originally, 40 per cent of the plant was held by financial firm Société Générale de Financement Québec (SGF), but in July 2005 it pulled out of the joint venture leaving DSM with 100 per cent ownership.
Shortly after, the company announced restructuring plans that included the sale of its active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) plant in South Haven, Michigan, and the mothballing of the biologics plant in Montreal by the beginning of 2006. The decision to close the Montreal site resulted in a financial impairment of around €31m for the company.
DSM decided to reduce its activities in the contract manufacturing side of its biopharmaceuticals business, and focus on its alliance with Dutch biotech firm Crucell which concentrated on developing the human cell line production platform PER.C6. DSM's biologics base in Groningen, the Netherlands, assumed the responsibility for biopharmaceutical contract manufacturing, and supporting licensees of the PER.C6 technology.
AstraZeneca has been the happy beneficiary of DSM's decision to focus on the software aspect its biologics business, announcing the acquisition of the Montreal site this week. This is the latest step in AstraZeneca's long term plan to "accelerate the delivery of promising pre-clinical biopharmaceutical candidate drugs into [the] development portfolio".
With the company repeatedly emphasizing its intentions to build its biopharmaceutical presence, this move to purchase manufacturing capacity follows AstraZeneca's 2006 acquisition of Cambridge Antibody Technology Group (CAT), which it billed as "a major step towards [its] goal of establishing a significant biopharmaceuticals capability".
Combine this with the existing alliance the company has with biopharma firm Abgenix, not to mention the recent announcement regarding Astra's intentions to acquire major biologics manufacturer MedImmune in a $15.6bn (€11.6bn) deal due to complete this month, and AstraZeneca is throwing itself wholeheartedly into the biologics bubble.
"The MedImmune deal was really transformational for our biologics sector," a spokesperson for the company told in-PharmaTechnologist.com.
"It's brought research and integrated manufacturing capacity and accelerated our plans by some years."
The acquisition has indeed transformed AstraZeneca's biologics pipeline; prior to the MedImmune deal the company had 120 projects in development, 7 per cent of which were biologicals. Following the deal, this has been upped to 163 projects in development, 27 per cent of which are biologicals. MedImmune has also brought vaccines into AstraZeneca's pipeline for the first time.
Long term plans for the firm are to be able to ensure that from 2010 one in four candidate drugs in development are biologicals, a target that was originally criticised as over-ambitious by some. However, the recent spate of investments and acquisitions suggest that AstraZeneca could indeed be on track to secure itself a significant share of the biologics market, the fastest growing segment of the pharmaceutical industry.
"There is still some economic headroom for further acquisitions," in-PharmaTechnologist was told.
"We still have the firepower to do more."