Plant-based technology developer iBio, which produces treatments for a range of fibrotic diseases including idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, systemic sclerosis, and scleroderma, has entered into a development agreement, as well as a 35-year manufacturing plant operating lease deal, with Eastern Capital Limited. The joint venture’s resulting company will be structured as an iBio subsidiary—iBio CMO LLC—and work on scale-up and large-scale biologicals manufacturing. The base of operations will be the 139,000-square-foot life sciences building previously owned by Caliber Biotherapeutics.

The facility itself is notable for several reasons, including the fact that it can grow over 4 million plants, all of which can be considered “in-process inventory,” with the potential to create over 300 kilograms of therapeutic protein in a single year. That’s the equivalent of a half-million doses of therapeutic antibody. The plant’s hydroponic production line boasts custom-designed LED arrays; a high-throughput, high capacity vacuum filtration system; and rapidly configurable downstream process modules.

Additional space and additional plant growth equipment have already been set aside within the manufacturing plant which could effectively double its capacity if needed. In theory, the plant’s output could be the equivalent of 50 million vaccine doses produced from availability of vaccine gene sequence to delivery in twelve weeks to control a pandemic outbreak, with the extended capacity to produce an additional 50 million doses every three weeks.

“We expect these transactions to be transformative for iBio,” said iBio chairman Robert B. Kay. “They give us control over a beautifully engineered, fully-equipped, large-scale facility to implement iBio's proprietary plant-made biopharmaceutical development and manufacturing technologies. They also provide substantial capital to both iBio and iBio CMO to support progress of iBio's fibrosis products into human clinical trials, and enable us to offer the rapidly expanding and underserved biologics development market contract manufacturing, using the superior attributes of our proprietary, plant-based technologies.”

Eastern’s $15 million cash investment to iBio gains it a 30% equity share, and the company has also agreed to purchase 10 million additional shares of iBio common stock through a private investment in a tranche of 3.5 million shares purchased immediately after NYSE approval and a 6.5 million share tranche subject to shareholder approval.

“Despite significant recent investments by major pharmaceutical and industrial companies in legacy cell culture-based manufacturing facilities, there is still a looming worldwide shortage of biologics development and manufacturing capacity. Meanwhile, growth of the biopharmaceutical sector is accelerating,” said iBio president Robert Erwin, “We now have both the technology and the capacity to enable biologics companies to focus on the value of their products rather than on the time, cost and other development challenges of cell lines used in traditional biologics manufacturing.”