Featured Article 29 Oct 2020
The Dundalk WuXi facility under construction in 2019. Image: Ken Finegan/Newspics Photography
The Dundalk WuXi facility under construction in 2019. Image: Ken Finegan/Newspics Photography

WuXi Biologics, mainland China’s leading end-to-end biologics solutions provider, has chosen Dundalk for its first manufacturing facility outside its native country. This isn’t the only milestone marked by the project as it is also WuXi Biologics’ largest single investment outside of China.

At 48,000 sq metres in size, the new facility will be the world’s largest single-use biologics manufacturing plant, involving a €325m investment. Headquartered in Wuxi in Jiangsu province with three manufacturing sites located in Wuxi, Shanghai and Suzhou, WuXi Biologics is the main player in China’s biologics services market. The company also holds leading market positions globally and is quoted on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

The Dundalk facility will be a state-of-the-art ‘factory of the future’ built upon the novel approach WuXi Biologics has pioneered in the commercial biomanufacturing of biologics-based medicines. Biologics is at the forefront of a new wave of innovative diagnostics and therapies which are changing how diseases are prevented and treated, helping millions of people worldwide.

Next-gen manufacturing

They offer patients more and better healthcare choices. The pharmaceutical industry has traditionally manufactured synthesised small molecule drugs, while biotechnology has provided a new class of drug called biologics. Cells, not chemicals, are used in their manufacture.

WuXi Biologics will be implementing a next-generation manufacturing technology at its Dundalk facility. This technology utilises single-use bioreactors to manufacture biologics drug substances on a continuous round-the-clock basis with the ability to quickly switch product lines in response to customer requirements.

Speaking at the announcement of the investment early in 2018, Dr Ge Li, chair of WuXi Biologics, said: “We had been engaging IDA Ireland before finalising this exciting investment in this community. These ventures showcase how competitive Ireland is for global enterprise and investment, and weare grateful for all the support local agencies and the talented people here have provided for us.”

Brendan McGrath, WuXi Biologics Ireland site head and VP for manufacturing, added: “Ireland is home to nine of the world’s top 10 pharma firms and many of them are our customers.
“The country boasts the youngest population in Europe and the environment is very attractive for the biologics industry with the skilled workforce and being the only English-speaking country in the Eurozone.”

Great location

He continued: “Ireland offers very good access to Europe and North America from a time zone point of view. Mainland China is seven hours ahead and the US is five hours behind so it’s nice and central. The environment in Ireland is very conducive to doing business and the Government and IDA Ireland are always looking for ways to interface better with business and reduce red tape.”

A key factor in securing the investment was the existence of an IDA owned site on the outskirts of Dundalk with planning permission already in place for a biotechnology campus. This was part of IDA Ireland’s visionary strategy of preparing Dundalk for a major biologics investment of this nature.

“We were very lucky that way,” McGrath said. “Having a site with some permissions already in place meant we could hit the ground quicker. If we had to look for our own site it would have taken 12 months or more.”

Site works commenced in early 2019, followed by steelworks in the first half of 2019. Construction is well underway and is 70pc completed. Commercial production is expected to commence in November 2021.

WuXi Biologics will employ a total of 400 staff in Dundalk when it enters full production. Currently, WuXi has 170 full-time staff and more than 1,000 construction and sub-supply employed indirectly.

‘Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’

“A greenfield biologics campus presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for great talent to join us to develop a full-scale integrated capability to produce of some of the world’s most innovative biologics medicines,” McGrath said.

“We are inviting experienced local and international talent to consider if the WuXi Biologics operations in Dundalk, or indeed in mainland China, might provide the exciting career opportunities and challenges they are seeking at the leading edge of biopharma innovation and production.”

In November 2019, WuXi announced a $240m investment in a new, greenfield vaccine manufacturing facility adjacent to the WuXi Biologics facility in Dundalk, bringing 200 additional new jobs to the town over five years.

WuXi Vaccines is a joint venture between WuXi Biologics and Hile Bio-pharmaceutical. The company has entered into the strategic partnership with a global vaccine leader under which WuXi Vaccines will build a dedicated facility to supply a commercial product for the global market.

WuXi Vaccines plans to build an integrated vaccine manufacturing facility, including drug substance manufacturing, drug product manufacturing and quality control labs. Recruitment is already underway, and it currently employs 45 people. Phase 1 manufacturing of the drug product is expected to commence in 2024. 

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