Lonza has begun construction of a modular, technology-independent complex designed to support growing demand for biological-based drug development and manufacturing.

Lonza disclosed yesterday that it has begun building the first of five buildings that will comprise Ibex™ Solutions, a 100,000 m2 (nearly 1.1 million square-foot) facility within the company’s campus in Visp, Switzerland. A formal groundbreaking ceremony is set to occur later this year for the facility, which the company says will result in “hundreds” of new positions being created.

Exactly how many positions “will all depend on the customer’s projects size that will eventually be hosted within the various modules of Ibex,” Samanta Cimitan Ph.D., head of strategic global programs for Lonza, told GEN today.

Ibex is envisioned to support activities across multiple drug development technologies from late discovery to manufacturing phases. Lonza said the new facility will be designed flexibly enough to give customers complete freedom in facility design and implementation and the ability to respond rapidly as needs evolve.

“We expect new medicines to be technologically more complex and more diverse, with increased pressures along the product life cycle,” Dr. Cimitan said. “Whatever the customer’s technology—mammalian, microbial, cellular therapy, bio-conjugates—we can deliver it within Ibex because we have process development and process manufacturing expertise across all of those technologies.

“We have the possibility to cover from drug substance to drug product and we can cover the full life cycle and be the one partner experienced in all technologies from development through manufacturing across the entire value chain,” Dr. Cimitan added.

Lonza’s move into modular biomanufacturing comes as two competitors have revealed plans to step up their presence in the segment. In February, Fujifilm established a new standalone Bio contract development and manufacturing organization (CDMO) division, with the goal of achieving revenues of ¥100 billion (approximately $900 million) by 2024.

And nearly a year ago, GE Healthcare announced plans for a €150 million ($176 million) biopharmaceutical manufacturing campus in Cork, Ireland, featuring Europe’s first KUBio™ prefabricated, off-the-shelf biomanufacturing facilities, to be owned and run by GE customers.

KUBio is designed to enable pharmaceutical companies to deploy new biologics manufacturing capacity quickly and bring medicines to market faster, in part by shortening build time to 18 months from the usual 3 years.

Shortening Time-to-Market

Lonza says its new modular complex is also expected to shorten customers’ time to market by 12 months or more.

“We have been working with our partners to understand what we can offer that will really change the game for them, and that’s why we have created Ibex,” Marc Funk, COO of Lonza Pharma & Biotech, said in a statement.

The Ibex™ biomanufacturing complex is to be integrated into the Visp site, where an expansion and improvement of infrastructure is ongoing, and set to be completed early next year. In February, Lonza joined Sanofi in disclosing plans for a CHF 290 million ($302 million) large-scale mammalian cell culture facility for monoclonal antibody production, whose cost will be shared equally by the companies. The plant is part of a companywide €600 million ($702 million) investment by Sanofi in increased production capacity for biologics.

The Lonza-Sanofi facility will be the first building to be developed at Ibex Solutions, and will be ready for build-out in mid-2018, according to an investor presentation yesterday. When that building gets fitted out, construction will start on the second building.

Sanofi will have additional access to biomanufacturing capacity at Visp if needed, while Lonza can market to other companies any capacity that Sanofi does not use.

In 2014, Lonza also expanded its capabilities at Visp by opening an upgraded antibody–drug conjugates (ADC) facility. The facility introduced single-use technology for flexible ADC manufacturing and reduced risks of product contamination, as well as an improved plant layout, and revamped heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems.

A year earlier, Lonza consolidated some operations from Hopkinton, MA, into Visp, a move that resulted in elimination of 200 of the Massachusetts site’s 300 jobs. The consolidation was part of a restructuring that included shutdowns of Lonza sites in Swords, Ireland, and Saint-Beauzire, France.

Lonza’s expansions at Ibex also reflect the company’s longstanding focus on enabling biopharma customers to manufacture more complex but higher-margin drugs at Visp. That commitment has enabled the company to maintain the site’s profitability given challenges that include the strength of the Swiss franc—a factor cited by Lonza when it eliminated 90 jobs at Visp in 2015.

[This report has been updated to include the number of buildings planned for Ibex Solutions, and details about the first building.]