Lonza today will officially open what it says is the world’s largest, dedicated, cell-and-gene-therapy facility in the Houston suburb of Pearland, TX.

Executives from Lonza will join other dignitaries at a grand-opening ceremony for the 300,000-square-foot facility, which the company says will help it address the growing global demand for virus needed by developers of cell and gene therapies.

The Lonza Houston Center of Excellence has already begun manufacturing operations for several customers. The facility is recruiting employees with plans to employ more than 200 full-time staffers—including scientists, engineers, MBAs, and biotechnology professionals—by the end of 2018. Lonza added that it will continue to recruit professionals for “high-value positions” as market demand increases.

Ryan Scanlon, head of viral gene therapy at Lonza, told GEN last year that the new facility will include a fully segregated fill/finish suite and will showcase Lonza’s single-use, disposable platforms of up to 2,000 L in volume.

By optimizing engineering designs and operational concepts, Lonza said, it maximized commercial cost-of-goods in dedicated, modular trains capable of making more than 40 batches of 2,000 L per year.

“Over time, depending on how our product/process mix evolves, the new facility could support production of several hundred batches of viral vectors per year,” Scanlon said at the time.

Lonza is also recruiting alpha and beta testers for the CocoonTM platform for the autologous cell and gene therapy manufacturing projects being developed with regenerative medicine company Octane Biotech. Cocoon performs core functions necessary for autologous cell therapy production, including cell seeding, expansion, feeding, and harvesting.

“We call it a 'GMP-in-a-box' system,” Nina Bauer, Ph.D., associate director, commercial development, Lonza, told GEN earlier this year. The goal of Cocoon is “to provide a scalable and cost-efficient solution to current autologous cell and gene therapy manufacturing bottlenecks.”

1 of 4 “Centers of Excellence”

Lonza disclosed plans February 14 to establish four “Centers of Excellence for Cell and Gene Therapy” worldwide, with the aim of accelerating growth in one of the company’s priority areas. Lonza has identified cell and gene therapy as a key pillar of its strategy for developing new treatments.

The Pearland facility and Lonza’s site in Geleen/Maastricht, the Netherlands, will offer a fully integrated range of cell- and gene-therapy services, including process and analytical development, clinical product supply, and commercial product supply. Lonza’s sites in Portsmouth, NH, and Singapore will serve both as clinical and commercial manufacturing sites.

Lonza said it would shift cell therapy operations out of Walkersville, MD, enabling that site to focus entirely on the Bioscience Solutions business.

The new Pearland facility “has the potential to produce treatment for thousands of patients suffering from rare genetic disorders or life-threatening diseases, under one roof,” Andreas Weiler, business unit head for emerging technologies at Lonza Pharma & Biotech, said today in a statement. “It will set a new standard in biopharmaceutical manufacturing and stand as one of four centers of excellence in cell and gene therapy in the only global network spanning three continents.”

Among dignitaries set to address attendees at today’s grand opening ceremony are Lonza CEO Richard Ridinger; Marc Funk, Lonza Pharma & Biotech COO; Patrick Aebischer, president emeritus of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and a Lonza board member; Texas state Rep. Ed Thompson (R-29th District); Pearland Mayor Tom Reid; bluebird bio CEO Nick Leschly; Brad Zakes, CEO of Cerevast Medical and founder of the Ethan Zakes Foundation, an adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD) patient-advocacy association; Luk Vandenberghe, Ph.D., a Harvard Medical School assistant professor of ophthalmology and associate director of the Ocular Genomics Institute, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary.

Dr. Vandenberghe‘s lab specializes in discovery and development of gene therapy for inherited and complex diseases and disorders in particular those of the eye, retina, and neurosensory organs.

Founded in 1897, Lonza is headquartered in Basel, Switzerland, and operates from more than 100 locations worldwide, with a global workforce of approximately 14,500 full-time employees.

“Lonza is committed to the evolution and cultivation of a diverse medical and life science community in the Greater Houston area for many years to come,” Funk added.

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