Japan-based Kyowa Kirin to invest $200 million for new pharma manufacturing complex in Sanford

Kyowa Kirin, a Japan-based global specialty pharmaceutical company, has selected Sanford in Lee County as the location for its first pharmaceutical manufacturing complex in North America.

Kyowa Kirin North America (KKNA) expects to create 102 new jobs and will invest $200 million in the new complex, which will manufacture Phase 2 and 3 clinical products, as well as be the commercial launch site for products developed at its parent company’s sites outside the United States.

“We will incorporate industry best practices, automation and the latest digital technologies at this facility - creating advanced capabilities and a Center of Excellence for training our global manufacturing workforce,” said Paul Testa, executive vice president and head of supply chain and manufacturing, KKNA.

On Tuesday, Feb. 27, the North Carolina Department of Commerce's Economic Investment Committee approved economic incentives worth about $2 million over 12 years, adding to local incentives approved earlier in February by the Sanford City Council and Lee County Board of Commissioners that total about $8.7 million toward the purchase of land, equipment for the facility, and building of the Sanford site. Over the 12-year state grant, the state said the project is estimated to grow the state's economy by $1.05 billion.Kyowa Kirin logo orange

“I am pleased to welcome Kyowa Kirin to Lee County for its next phase of growth,” said Gov. Roy Cooper. “North Carolina’s leadership as a life sciences powerhouse for research and manufacturing aligns well with this company’s reputation for creating innovative treatments, and we believe they will find great success here.”

Kyowa Kirin uses cutting-edge research and expertise in antibody engineering to advance new discoveries to help patients and families living with serious and rare diseases for which there are currently no adequate treatments. North America is the fastest-growing region in the company and markets three first-in-class medicines across three disease areas - hematological cancers, rare diseases, and neurological conditions.

The company has been in operation for more than 70 years, with a history dating back to the establishment of Kirin Brewing Co., Ltd., in 1907 and its joining with Kyowa Hakko Kogyo Co., Ltd., some years later. It has since grown to have operations in Japan, Asia Pacific, North America and other international regions including EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa). 

“Kyowa Kirin will be in great company in North Carolina with its thriving pharmaceutical industry that is twice as large as the national average,” said NC Commerce Secretary Machelle Baker Sanders. “Even more importantly, our Tier 1 research institutions and unique training partnerships, as supported by our First in Talent plan, will help the company recruit the highly skilled talent they need to continue developing novel medicines.”

Kyowa Kirin says it reaches 44 markets internationally. KKNA has headquarters in New Jersey. The new Sanford facility will be located at Helix Ventures’ Helix Innovation Park at the Brickyard in northern Lee County.

"We are honored Sanford and Helix Innovation Park at the Brickyard have been chosen by Kyowa Kirin for a new, innovative pharmaceutical manufacturing campus," said Jonathan Keener, managing partner, Helix Ventures & Trustwell Group, which owns Helix Innovation Park. "Lee County could not have found a more collaborative or forward-thinking company to partner with as we help grow the future of life science here in North Carolina."  

Helix rendering
A rendering of Helix Innovation Park. KKNA will be in Parcel B, Helix said. -Image from Helix

The Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC) worked with state and local entities, including the North Carolina Biotechnology Center (NCBiotech), to support the project with site selection and connectivity to the life sciences industry and workforce development resources in the state.

“Welcoming a new company like Kyowa Kirin to our state is the product of collaboration with partners such as NCBiotech. Our colleagues at NCBiotech provide a level of expertise that highlights North Carolina’s long-term commitment and leadership in the life sciences industry,” said Christopher Chung, CEO of the EDPNC. “Our state’s life sciences industry launched in the 1950s, and we have leveraged this foundation to become a premier biomanufacturing location. We look forward to Kyowa Kirin’s contribution to the region and Lee County’s success.”

Doug Edgeton, president and CEO of NCBiotech, said he met with several Kyowa Kirin leaders in Toyko when he joined NC Gov. Cooper, Sec. Sanders and Chung at an economic development conference there last October. He also met with some company officials in North Carolina last fall when they were visiting sites in the state.  

"We are very excited about their project and all that it brings to Sanford, Lee County and the entire state," Edgeton said. "I look forward to working with them in the future. Kyowa Kirin brings a history of collaboration and innovation that will fit well in our life sciences ecosystem in North Carolina."

Since that Tokyo conference, Kyowa Kirin is the third Japanese company to select North Carolina for its operations. Between 2018 and 2022, Japanese companies have announced more than $6.6 billion in investment in North Carolina and more than 5,166 new jobs. Currently, more than 28,000 North Carolinians work for Japanese companies such as FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies, FUJIFILM Irvine Scientific, Astellas Gene Therapies, Morinaga, and Sumitomo Pharma. In 2021, Toyota announced it will build its first North American battery manufacturing plant in Liberty, N.C., investing $1.29 billion and creating 1,750 jobs. Since then, Toyota has announced three additional expansions bringing the project’s total capital investment to $13.9 billion and 5,000 new jobs.

“This investment by a well-established, global specialty pharma company is a testament to the cooperation and coordination of the state’s economic development groups and officials in Sanford and Lee County,” said Laura Rowley, vice president, life science economic development, NCBiotech. “We were able to provide the life sciences expertise for this project, but that’s just one element of the total package that North Carolina offered. Our life sciences ecosystem and workforce development horsepower helped us stand out as Kyowa Kirin selected NC from among other areas around the country.”  

Although wages will vary depending on the position, the average salary for KKNA’s new positions will be $91,496, which is nearly double Lee County’s average wage of $51,682.

Kyowa Kirin in January completed its acquisition of Orchard Therapeutics plc (Orchard Therapeutics, Nasdaq: ORTX), a global gene therapy leader based in London and Boston. Orchard is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Kyowa Kirin.

The announcement is one in a significant string of recent economic development announcements in Lee County, according to the Triangle Business Journal - in 2019, Indian automotive machining company Kalyani Precision Manufacturing committed to creating 156 jobs and investing $43 million in a high-precision machine shop; and the same year, Bharat Forge America, a subsidiary of an Indian auto parts firm, committed to building an aluminum forging plant in Sanford — a 304-job, $127.3 million investment.

Partnering with the North Carolina Department of Commerce and the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina on this project were the North Carolina General Assembly, the North Carolina Community College System, N.C. Commerce’s Division of Workforce Solutions, North Carolina State University, North Carolina Biotechnology Center, Research Triangle Regional Partnership, Carolina Core, Duke Energy, Dominion Energy, Lee County, Sanford Area Growth Alliance, and City of Sanford.

Chris Capot, NCBiotech
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