Baltimore facility key to Emergent's plan to expand beyond biodefense

By Steven Overly
Monday, July 19, 2010

Rockville-based Emergent BioSolutions is planning to make major renovations to a 55,000-square-foot facility in Baltimore that the pharmaceutical company said is key to its plans to expand beyond the biodefense sector.

Known as the producer of the only FDA-approved anthrax vaccine, Emergent executives said the company aims to remain competitive by expanding the number and variety of drugs it has on the market.

"We're well positioned to maintain our leadership" in anthrax vaccination, said Kyle Keese, senior vice president for manufacturing operations. "We can start to move outside the biodefense realm and into more commercial segments."

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) was on hand Friday for a ribbon-cutting ceremony and, along with company chief executive Fuad El-Hibri, touted the facility as a manifestation of state investment in the life sciences industry and job creation.

But the building at 5901 E. Lombard St. is still at least a year and a half from operation. The company plans to spend about $30 million to remodel the internal labs and potentially expand the site's footprint.

About 120 jobs will be created over the next five years at the facility, executives said. Emergent also has a research facility in Gaithersburg with about 70 employees and a manufacturing plant in Lansing, Mich., with 400.

The existing facility is a maze of sterile hallways and workrooms with white walls and stainless steel bioreactors that conjure up images from H.G. Wells novels. Emergent purchased it from the MdBio Foundation, a division of the Tech Council of Maryland, in November for $8.2 million.

Design plans call for the five existing labs to be combined into two, which are necessary for Emergent to manufacture viral and non-viral vaccines. Emergent may also have its eye on a neighboring lot if plans to expand on the existing property prove insufficient.

Emergent has secured a number of sizable government contracts to produce and stockpile its anthrax vaccine, BioThrax, including a $107 million deal with the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority announced Wednesday.

El-Hibri said the Baltimore facility will give Emergent additional space to take on more government work, but also to break into the commercial sector. Emergent is testing potential vaccines for more common ailments such as tuberculosis and typhoid.

Emergent's growth is being watched by Maryland's biotech community. There are about 500 biotech companies in the state, most of which have 100 or fewer employees.

Judith Britz, executive director of the Maryland Biotechnology Center, who was at the ceremony Friday, said Emergent's progress shows why it is important for the state to continue supporting the sector. It can often take years for such firms to develop a product that is ready to market.

"That's why you need a pipeline of 500 companies at all these stages so they mature at a regular rate," Britz said. "What we have to do a much better job of is that transition out of the lab and into product development and company creation."

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