Alex Philippidis Senior News Editor Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News

Sweden’s Sobi expands North American offices with a move to Waltham, MA.

Rockland Immunochemicals says the growth it anticipates over the next few years would allow it to double its workforce following its recent relocation within Pennsylvania to a larger site.

“We built a facility with the notion that we could go from about 55 to 60 people and grow to over 100. Our intention is to go out and get that kind of business to support that kind of growth,” Rockland COO Richard Smith told GEN. “In a three-to-five-year period, I’d like to have double the workforce at this facility. We could be presented with different opportunities to change that timeline, but the building is one that we intend to be in for quite some time.”

The extra staffers will be needed as Rockland continues to address increased demand for life science research tools—especially in its core business segments of antibodies, related products, and services. That growth is both organic, a result of continuing outsourcing by biopharmas, plus business from two acquisitions in recent years.

To accommodate that growth, Rockland recently moved from Gilbertsville, PA—the company’s home since it was established in 1962—to Limerick, PA, specifically a 60,000-square-foot facility within an industrial park called the Limerick Airport Business Center. The new HQ’s advantages compared with Gilbertsville include being closer to some of the company’s largest clients in the Philadelphia region, as well as to Philly itself.

Proximity to Philadelphia also helps Rockland find talent from top universities such as Temple and UPenn, while also benefitting employees, many of whom live in or near the city.

“We wanted to have an option that fit their commutes well. The workforce that we have is fabulous, and we didn’t want to encourage anyone to leave because of the move. Quite the opposite; we really wanted to encourage people to stay. They’re our most important asset that we have,” Smith said. “We actually shortened our commutes by, on average, between 5 to 10 minutes as a result of our move.”

Smith said Rockland’s new site will also allow it to double its production of antibodies and related products, which are designed for integration into assays such as Western blotting, immunohistochemistry, immunofluorescence microscopy, ELISA, and flow cytometry: “This facility is built to take on projects two or three times larger than we had done before.”

Privately held Rockland has grown in part through targeted acquisitions: In December 2012, the company expanded its protein research offerings by buying the TrueBlot® IP/Western blot product line from Affymetrix subsidiary eBioscience for an undisclosed price. Four months later, Rockland snapped up the Epi-Plus® antibody product line from 21st Century Biochemicals, also for a price not disclosed.

“We see a lot of growth in a couple of areas, particularly related to services that we provide in bioprocessing, for example. These are areas where we’re experiencing growth and adding resources to meet the opportunities that we’re presented,” Smith said.

Rockland’s new facility includes clean rooms for cell culture, suites for molecular biology, larger lot capacity production capabilities, and increased aseptic processing areas. The company borrowed from tech giants like Apple and Google to design open space with comfort for both employees and clients in mind—and with enough flexibility to expand over time in newer but growing specialties such as epigenetics and stem cells.

One factor in Rockland’s expansion move was the age of the Gilbertsville facility, a half-century-old site that saw its most recent expansion about 20 years ago. The facility is owned by Rockland’s owner, the Fendrick family, which will decide the site’s future, Smith said.

“We looked at the current property, certainly, as an option where we could have built more lab space. We had 70 acres there,” Smith said. “But we decided that given the economy, given our position in terms of the business, we wanted to move closer to Philadelphia and into a different kind of environment.”

Another factor in Rockland’s expansion was Limerick itself, with Smith praising the township’s officials for promoting balanced growth and offering straight answers to questions. The township’s 2009 Comprehensive Plan foresees 5,250 new jobs in Limerick by 2035—including 1,578 industrial jobs and 1,668 office jobs.

Rockland’s new facility is near U.S. Route 422’s eastern spur, which heads west to Pottstown and east to King of Prussia and Collegeville—where Dow Chemical last year opened an R&D site in a former Pfizer campus. “We’d like to see that increase, and we’d like to see it go more heavily into biotech. We’re the anchor tenant trying to help drive that,” Smith said.

To that end, he added, Rockland has an option to buy its new HQ: “It’s our notion to acquire the building when the time is right.”

SOBI: Orfadin Plans Drive Move to Massachusetts

Swedish Orphan Biovitrum (Sobi) on June 16 is opening a new North American office in the Boston suburb of Waltham, MA, with plans to base 21 employees by year’s end at the Waltham Woods Corporate Center (890 Winter St.).

A key priority for the new office will be marketing Orfadin, after Sobi recently assumed direct responsibility for commercializing the drug in North America. Orfadin is the only FDA-approved therapy indicated as an adjunct to dietary restriction of tyrosine and phenylalanine for hereditary tyrosinemia type 1 (HT-1), a rare disease.

“Orfadin is one of our most important products and will be an important part of our growing focus on the North American market,” Oskar Bosson, Sobi’s head of communications, told GEN.

Growth in North America, Sobi has concluded, will require a presence in the top-tier Boston-Cambridge, MA, biopharma cluster. The company is moving to Waltham, the U.S. office it opened just two years ago in the Philadelphia suburb of Ardmore, PA.

“To support our growth it will be important to find the right people and work with the right partners, and Massachusetts is a major driver for global biotechnology innovation,” Bosson said. “Our new location will offer us the opportunity to collaborate with some of the finest research institutions and universities in the world and ensure that we have access to a strong local talent pool.”

Waltham employees will be a mix of new hires and existing staffers from Sobi’s current workforce of about 550—mainly administrative and sales staffers, though the company’s vp, North America will also be based there.

Waltham is seven miles west of Cambridge, MA, the headquarters city for Biogen Idec, Sobi’s partner in the development and commercialization of Alprolix™ and Eloctate™, two hemophilia drugs approved by the FDA earlier this year—as well as a philanthropic collaboration to donate 1 billion units of clotting factor to developing nations over the next decade. Bosson said the Waltham move was not driven by those collaborations since Sobi’s hemophilia team is based solely in Europe and other territories where it does business.

Sobi said it worked closely on its Waltham plans with the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC), the quasi-public agency that oversees the commonwealth’s $1 billion, 10-year Life Sciences Initiative.

MLSC has made no funding commitment to Sobi, which first contacted the agency in March, spokesman Angus McQuilken told GEN, adding: “Once they are here they will then be eligible to apply and compete for funding through the Center’s various funding programs.”

Share your news of biopharma employment ups, downs, and trends with JobWatch. Please email Alex Philippidis at [email protected] or via Twitter at @AlexWestchester.

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