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Pfizer Adds $500M, 300 Jobs to its NC Gene Therapy Stake

Pfizer announced today that it will invest an additional $500 million and add 300 more jobs to increase its newly completed gene therapy manufacturing capabilities at its 230-acre campus in Sanford, North Carolina.

The announcement comes just two years after the world’s largest pharmaceutical company started expanding its vaccine-manufacturing plant in the Lee County community some 30 miles south of Raleigh, with a $100 million investment in gene therapy manufacturing that added 40 jobs to what is now a 650-person workforce there.

The site’s increasing focus on gene therapy involves a transformational technology for North Carolina, and the world, using highly specialized, one-time treatments that address the root cause of diseases caused by genetic mutation. It infuses genetic material into the body to deliver a correct copy of a gene to a patient’s cells to compensate for a defective or missing gene.

“At Pfizer, our purpose is breakthroughs that change patients’ lives,” said Angela Hwang, group president of Pfizer Biopharmaceuticals Group, in a Sanford ceremony unveiling the investment. “We’re excited to build this new state-of-the-art facility in Sanford because it will have the potential to help us develop novel methods to deliver transformative treatments to patients.”

Mike McDermott, president of  Pfizer Global Supply, added, “This investment will further strengthen Pfizer’s leadership in gene therapy manufacturing technology. The expansion of the Sanford site is expected to create hundreds of highly skilled jobs, which would increase Sanford’s high-tech manufacturing environment and is part of our overall plan to invest approximately $5 billion in U.S.-based capital projects over the next several years.”

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper joined in celebrating Pfizer’s expansion decision, noting that “North Carolina is a leader in life sciences in part because of our long-standing partnership with Pfizer. Today we mark another boost to our state and we are proud of the people conducting life-saving research in Sanford.”

Pfizer Sanford
Pfizer’s Sanford campus. — Pfizer photo

Pfizer said it is expanding its end-to-end capabilities in gene therapy in North Carolina by investing in facilities focused on all stages of research, development, and manufacturing.

In its Kit Creek facility in the Wake County community of Morrisville, scientists work at a small scale – from two-liter flasks up to 250-liter bioreactors – to develop the process that may eventually be used in larger-scale manufacturing. That process is optimized at its nearby Chapel Hill facility, where Pfizer colleagues continue to work at a 250-liter scale while implementing quality control measures included in essential Good Manufacturing Practice standards.

The company said its focus on these processes, combined with its existing and new investment in Sanford to manufacture gene therapies, is designed to result in a high-quality, efficient supply of gene therapies at clinical and commercial scale.

These gene therapy expansions are the latest of several decisions by Pfizer to expand its footprint in North Carolina. Pfizer is the largest, but a dozen other gene therapy developers have set up shop in the state’s Research Triangle area, creating what is widely seen as the world’s premier location for the fast-emerging technology. (See accompanying story).

Pfizer has put $4 million into a multi-year academic fellowship program to support postdoctoral research fellowships in gene therapy at university laboratories in the state. The program is managed by the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, which has been a behind-the-scenes facilitator for the state’s gene therapy boom since the beginning.

In addition, Pfizer has been expanding a drug-manufacturing facility in Rocky Mount that it acquired from Hospira in 2015. That $190 million project adds 65,000 square feet of sterile injectable facilities to a plant that employs about 300 people.

Pfizer’s main gene therapy attraction to North Carolina was Bamboo Therapeutics, a Chapel Hill-based gene therapy company, which Pfizer purchased in 2016 for $150 million up-front, plus another $495 million in potential milestone payments.

Bamboo was one of several companies spun out of Asklepios Biopharmaceutical (“AskBio” for short), a gene-delivery technology company that has grown with the help of more than $1.5 million in grants and loans from the Biotech Center to support associated gene therapy research and commercial development projects.

AskBio was co-founded in 2001 by entrepreneurs Sheila Mikhail, Xiao Xiao, Ph.D., and R. Jude Samulski, Ph.D., a gene therapy pioneer who was recruited to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1993 with nearly $250,000 in grant funding from the Biotech Center.

The rest of the story is logged in the history of North Carolina’s life science transformation, and its future, revealed again today — this time in Sanford.

Read more about North Carolina’s gene therapy leadership.