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Pfizer Boosts North Carolina Footprint with $100 Million Expansion

By Barry Teater, NCBiotech Writer

Pfizer, the global pharmaceutical giant, will expand its vaccine-manufacturing plant in Sanford with a $100 million investment in gene therapy that will add 40 jobs to its workforce.

The Lee County expansion's focus on gene therapy involves a potentially transformational technology for patients, focused on highly specialized, one-time treatments that address the root cause of diseases caused by genetic mutation. The technology involves introducing genetic material into the body to deliver a correct copy of a gene to a patient’s cells to compensate for a defective or missing gene.

Preliminary work on the expansion and initial hiring have already begun. The 230-acre campus employs about 450 people.

“Pfizer is proud to further expand our presence in North Carolina, particularly as we build our leadership in gene therapy,” states Lynn Bottone, Site Leader at Pfizer Sanford. “We look forward to the next phase of this expansion as we build a clinical and commercial manufacturing facility.”

Pfizer's manufacturing facility in the Lee County community of Sanford. -- Pfizer photo

The expansion is the latest of several recent decisions by Pfizer to expand its footprint in North Carolina.

Pfizer has pledged $4 million to a multi-year academic fellowship program to support postdoctoral research fellowships in gene therapy at university laboratories in the state. The program is managed by the North Carolina Biotechnology Center.

Pfizer is also expanding a drug-manufacturing facility in Rocky Mount that it acquired from Hospira in 2015. The $190 million project will add 65,000 square feet of sterile injectable facilities but will not create any new jobs. The plant employs about 300 people.

A year ago Pfizer purchased Bamboo Therapeutics, a Chapel Hill-based gene therapy company, for $150 million up front plus another $495 million in potential milestone payments if Bamboo’s product candidates achieve commercialization goals.

Bamboo was one of three companies spun out of Asklepios Biopharmaceutical (“AskBio” for short), a gene-delivery technology company that has grown with the help of more than $700,000 in grants and loans from the Biotech Center to support its research and commercial development.

AskBio was co-founded in 2003 by entrepreneurs Sheila Mikhail and R. Jude Samulski, Ph.D., a gene therapy expert who was recruited to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1993 with nearly $250,000 in grant funding from the Biotech Center.

“Innovation drives economic opportunity and expansion,” said North Carolina Commerce Secretary Anthony M. Copeland. “Pfizer’s decision to expand in North Carolina proves how our investments in education pay off in new jobs and new solutions to the world’s toughest challenges.”

Pfizer's Sanford facility lobby. -- Courtesy of G. Chambers Williams III, The Sanford Herald

A performance-based grant of $250,000 from the One North Carolina Fund will help facilitate Pfizer’s expansion in Lee County. The One NC grant will formally be awarded to Wyeth Holdings, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Pfizer Inc. The One NC Fund provides financial assistance to local governments to help attract economic investment and to create jobs. Companies receive no money upfront and must meet job creation and capital investment targets to qualify for payment. All One NC grants require a matching grant from local governments and any award is contingent upon that condition being met.

“We are excited that Carolina’s research will improve lives and create jobs for North Carolinians,” said Carol Folt, Chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “This is a perfect example of how placing innovation at the center of our university creates new opportunities. We are proud to be a part of the technologies, expertise and infrastructure that went into Bamboo Therapeutics and helped make this manufacturing expansion in Sanford possible. Gene therapy is a strength at Carolina and we look forward to continue to help advance this industry.”

Key partners in the Pfizer expansion process included North Carolina Department of Commerce and the Economic Partnership of North Carolina, the North Carolina General Assembly, the North Carolina Community College System, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, Duke Energy, Lee County, and the Sanford Area Growth Alliance.

“North Carolina is one of the few places in the country with the biotech resources to take an idea all the way from the lab to the manufacturing line,” said Governor Roy Cooper. “Pfizer’s investment in Lee County is a prime example of how North Carolina’s world-class universities and cutting-edge industries work together to move our state forward.”

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