The news is a disappointment for contract biologics manufacturers operating in Europe and the US, such as Lonza and Cambrex, which are facing increased competition of the sort that has already had a dramatic impact on contract manufacturers of chemical drugs.
Lonza, for its part, was swift to put out a statement that its existing relationship with B-MS on a manufacturing facility in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, US, was unaffected by the drugmaker's deal with Celltrion. Analysts had speculated that the deal could be in jeopardy, following on from earlier comments that a decision by Genentech to buy a plant from Biogen Idec could also affect Lonza's plans for the plant and its growth forecatsts for 2005.
Under the terms of the agreement Celltrion will manufacture products in bulk at its large-scale production facility in Incheon, South Korea. Although commercial terms of the agreement were not disclosed, the agreement is believed to represent the largest biologics manufacturing contract for an Asian biopharmaceutical contract manufacturer.
B-MS would not disclose the products to be made by the Korean firm, although in a statement the companies said that the Incheon facility 's capable of producing multiple products, including Bristol-Meyers Squibb's abatacept and belatacept'
Abatacept is a drug intended for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and is currently in Phase III trials, while belatacept is in late-stage testing as an immunosuppressant in patients undergoing kidney transplants.
"A key element of our company strategy is the expansion of our portfolio of biologic products. In support of that goal we must continuously assess our manufacturing capabilities," explained Carlo de Notaristefani, president, technical operations, at B-MS. The company operates its own bioproduction plant in Syracuse, New York, in addition to its collaboration with Lonza on the Portsmouth facility.
Technology transfer activities are expected to begin immediately, and production of product is expected to take up a significant portion of Celltrion's 50,000 litres of bioreactor capacity.
Celltrion, formed in 2002, recently completed construction of the 50,000-litre mammalian cell culture facility and has already initiated plans to double its size by 2010.
Jung-Jin Seo, Celltrion's co-CEO, said: "Having been selected by a world leader in pharmaceuticals to produce their biologic products validates our strategy of competing on a global scale for top-tier biopharmaceutical contract manufacturing."