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Eli Lilly ($LLY) is jumping into continuous manufacturing as the more efficient technology gains popularity among some of pharma’s biggest companies.
The Indianapolis-based Lilly will invest nearly $40 million (€35 million) to build a continuous manufacturing facility at its site in Cork, Ireland. Once open early next year, the company said the new facility will become Lilly’s global “center of excellence for continuous manufacturing,” according to an announcement by the Ireland Development Agency.
Eli Lilly CEO John Lechleiter
In a statement, CEO John Lechleiter said the new plant will manufacture drugs it has in its late-stage pipeline. He noted the new plant comes after Lilly has already invested about $740 million (€650 million) in the site in the last 8 years, hiring 350 employees in the process.
For years there has been talk about the benefits of continuous manufacturing, which is faster and involves smaller, less expensive plants that produce less waste and are easier on the environment. Unlike chemical-heavy batch processing, which takes weeks to complete, continuous manufacturing feeds raw materials for solid-dose products through a nonstop process that can provide real-time release testing and produce commercial-ready tablets in a day. But despite the advantages, it is a difficult transition for an industry whose manufacturing infrastructure for a century has been built around batch processing.
A few drugmakers have taken the plunge. They are giving the process a test, building continuous manufacturing plants when they need capacity for new small molecule drugs. Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ), which has a continuous processing line at a plant in Puerto Rico, has said it hopes to eventually produce 70% of its high-volume products through continuous manufacturing. GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) is building in Singapore.
Vertex ($VRTX) invested $30 million in a 4,000-square-foot continuous manufacturing facility in Boston in anticipation that it would get approval for its new cystic fibrosis drug, Orkambi, which was approved by the FDA last July. Then last month, contract manufacturer Hovione said it would build a continuous manufacturing plant at its site in New Jersey to make products for Vertex.