Pfizer pipped to the post by biologics plant announcement

By Anna Lewcock

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Pfizer

Pfizer was taken by surprise this week as a US engineering firm
announced that it had been awarded a contract to manage
construction of the firm's proposed biotech production plant in
Ireland, before the plant plans themselves have even been approved
by internal Pfizer decision makers.

Jacobs Engineering made the announcement on Tuesday - prematurely, according to a Pfizer spokesperson - claiming it had received a contract to provide management services for the construction of the new plant in Cork, Ireland. Initial murmurs regarding Pfizer's possible plans for a new biologics facility in the region emerged back in May, when the company would only go so far as to say that plans were at a very early stage and yet to be approved internally - although the company did admit that it had applied for planning permission at the site in Shanbally. This latest news from Jacobs would suggest that plans are moving forward, though Pfizer is still holding the line that a decision on the proposed small scale biologics facility has yet to be finalised. Jacobs, on the other hand, seems quite clear on the project and has released details of the planned construction. According to the construction services company, the facility will be built on Pfizer's 28-acre brownfield site in Shanbally, accommodating a production plant, QA/QC laboratories, administration facilities and associated infrastructure. Jacobs claims that construction will start on the site next month, with active manufacturing scheduled to begin towards the end of 2009. Pfizer, however, seems to disagree. According to a hastily compiled statement put together in response to the Jacobs release, Pfizer claims that an internal decision on whether to give the plant plans the go-ahead isn't even expected until October - a month after Jacobs has said it is planning begin construction. The final application for internal Pfizer approval can only be submitted following completion of a series of defined steps, according to the company. These have so far included conceptual and preliminary design work, an application for planning permission, and "the award of a contract for pre-construction services to Jacobs Engineering." ​ When contacted by, a spokesperson for Pfizer revealed that the planning permission for the site had "technically​" been granted by Cork County Council last month, though is still subject to the pharmaceutical heavyweight getting back to the council "on a number of issues which [it is] currently working through."​ The Pfizer representative also confirmed that a contract for pre-construction services for the proposed Shanbally development had indeed been awarded. However, as far as the other details released by Jacobs, Pfizer seems extremely reluctant to confirm the firm's estimates or even that the plant plans will come to fruition: "Until a final decision is made internally on the facility it is premature to speculate on the outcome of the process or potential starting dates for plant construction." ​ Jacobs Engineering was unavailable for comment prior to going to press. Although Pfizer admitted that it indeed has a preliminary manufacturing date of late 2009, the pending status of internal approvals means the company feels that it is "premature…to be absolute about this​," according to the company spokesperson. However, the firm did disclose the facilities that would be present at the proposed Shanbally plant, confirming Jacobs' description of the planned site and stating that the main building itself will have a total footprint of 5020m2​ and a height of 22m. Initial estimates had put the cost of the proposed facility at around €175m, with the plant due to be used for the production of Phase III clinical trial products and initial launches of biologic products. Pfizer is actively pursuing plans to build a "major presence​" in biotherapeutics, with large molecules due to play a "very important part​" in the firm's future, according to recent company announcements. There are currently 14 biologic compounds in the company's pipeline, including vaccines and antibodies to treat cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and flu among other conditions. "Pfizer is making significant internal and external investments to further expand its presence in biologics and capitalise on attractive development opportunities,"​ was told. This business plan is reflected in ongoing activities by the company, such as an active manufacturing agreement with Boehringer Ingelheim and the acquisition of Pharmacia several years ago, which served to increase the company's biologics R&D capacity. Given the company's openly advertised excursions into biologics, the establishment of a new facility such as the proposed Shanbally site would make perfect sense if the firm is hoping to capitalise on its efforts and burst on to the biologics scene fully prepared. It seems however, that Pfizer prefers to keep some cards close to its chest, and has decided to remain non-committal regarding the new Irish site - despite the seemingly unambiguous plans let slip by Jacobs this week.

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