North Carolina Books Over $2B in Drug-Manufacturing Expansions in 2020

Rendering of the ApiJect gigafactory under construction in RTP
Rendering of the ApiJect gigafactory under construction in RTP. -- ApiJect image

Life sciences companies from around the state, nation and world are expanding their capacity to manufacture pharmaceuticals and biological therapies in North Carolina.

Expansions announced in 2020 will bring more than $2.3 billion in investment and 2,800 new jobs in biopharma manufacturing to the state in coming months and years.

Ten companies will first create construction-related jobs and then bioscience jobs as they build and operationalize new or expanded plants in communities including Clayton, Durham, Greenville, Maxton, Research Triangle Park and Sanford.

“It’s great to see this recognition for the amazing economic development ecosystem that is helping North Carolina achieve global leadership in so many ways,” said Bill Bullock, senior vice president of statewide operations and economic development for the North Carolina Biotechnology Center. “Our world-class academic base, our long-term commitment to workforce development, our magnetic business climate are proving to be increasingly attractive to companies choosing to make major investments in relocation and expansion.”

Here are the major life sciences manufacturing projects announced in 2020:

  • Global pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Company announced plans to build its first North Carolina manufacturing facility in Research Triangle Park, investing $474 million and creating 462 new jobs. Lilly officials said they chose North Carolina over competing sites in Indianapolis and Philadelphia, primarily because of the state’s workforce capabilities.
  • Audentes Therapeutics, a San Francisco gene therapy company that was purchased in January 2020 by Tokyo-based Astellas Pharma, announced it would establish a $109.4 million, 209-employee gene therapy production facility in Sanford. The company chose to join North Carolina’s burgeoning gene therapy ecosystem after also considering its home state of California, as well as Massachusetts and Colorado.
  • Grifols, a global biotherapeutics company with more than 2,000 employees in North Carolina, announced it would add 300 more to its Clayton workforce as part of a $351.6 million expansion of its blood plasma operations there. The project is the latest of several expansions that are making the Clayton site one of the world’s largest manufacturing plants for plasma-derived medicines. 
  • A young Boston-area gene therapy company, Beam Therapeutics, announced plans to build an $83 million biomanufacturing facility in Durham. The 200,000-square-foot facility could employ more than 200 people over five years.
  • Merck’s Maurice R. Hilleman Center for Vaccine Manufacturing in Durham disclosed plans to hire 100 more employees over the next few years as it builds a new facility to increase production of a bladder cancer drug.
  • Connecticut-based ApiJect Systems announced construction of a “gigafactory” on a 185-acre site in RTP at a potential cost of $785 million and adding up to 650 jobs. ApiJect, which makes an experimental disposable injection device, said the 1-million-square-foot campus will be capable of producing 3 billion single-dose prefilled injectors annually.
  • KBI Biopharma, a contract drug development and manufacturing company with operations in Durham, announced a new manufacturing facility near Research Triangle Park that will employ more than 200 people in operations and quality assurance. KBI will co-invest $150 million in the 140,000-square-foot facility in collaboration with an undisclosed pharmaceutical client to support manufacturing of the client’s therapeutic proteins.
  • Huvepharma, a global pharmaceutical company that develops and manufactures human- and animal-health products, announced a $1.9 million expansion of its poultry vaccines plant in Maxton, in rural Scotland County, that will add 10 jobs.
  • Thermo Fisher Scientific, a global life sciences services company with major operations in North Carolina, unveiled plans to add 500 new jobs in Greenville over the next two years in a $500 million expansion of its sterile drug product development and commercial manufacturing of critical medicines, therapies and vaccines.
  • Dallas-based Taysha Gene Therapies announced plans to invest $75 million in a 150,000-square-foot gene therapy manufacturing facility in Durham County that will employ more than 200 people by the end of 2023. 

The momentum of 2020 expansions continued in the new year as two additional companies announced projects in early 2021:

  • California gene therapy innovator Adverum Biotechnologies will invest $83 million to establish a manufacturing site in Durham that will employ 202 people at an average salary of $93,762 when fully operational.
  • Pennsylvania-based West Pharmaceutical Services, a manufacturer of drug-packaging and delivery components, will invest $19 million over the next year to expand its production capacity in Kinston, adding about 90 new jobs to the plant’s current workforce of 425.

Manufacturing workforce growth is an NC trend

According to the annual year-end analysis by the North Carolina Biotechnology Center’s Life Science Intelligence team, 30,181 people were employed in life sciences production and manufacturing companies at year-end 2020. They make an expanding array of products, including small-molecule pharmaceuticals, monoclonal antibodies, industrial enzymes, vaccines, and cell- and gene-based therapies.

About 37,000 additional life sciences workers statewide work in research and development or contract research and testing. Providing that employment is an all-time record 775 life sciences companies, plus nearly 2,500 companies providing support functions . 

It results in $84 billion in annual economic activity for the state, including $2.3 billion in state and local taxes, thanks to the sector’s average annual salary exceeding $97,000 – more than twice that of the state’s overall private-sector salary.

Activity earns top accolade

The robust growth in pharmaceutical and biologics manufacturing in 2020 helped North Carolina score a notable media honor.

Business Facilities magazine, a national publication serving corporate site selectors and economic development professionals, proclaimed North Carolina the "2020 State of the Year."  

This marks the first time North Carolina has earned the magazine’s top honor, bestowed annually since 2007 to recognize the best states’ successes in winning projects that create capital investment and new jobs.
“North Carolina is leveraging its advantages ― including a prime logistics location, a steadily expanding skilled workforce and impressive higher education resources ― to seal the deal on one big project after another,” said magazine Editor in Chief Jack Rogers.

“The Tar Heel State has put down a marker that it’s ready to compete for a leadership position in the emerging growth sectors of the 21st century,” he added.

Christopher Chung, chief executive officer of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, welcomed the recognition of business recruitment success in a year when many companies put expansion plans on hold during the downturn of a global pandemic.

“It was reassuring to see the high quality and wide diversity of project wins we had in 2020 – particularly in biotech and pharmaceutical, information technology, food and beverage production, and distribution and warehousing,” Chung said.

Barry Teater, NCBiotech Writer
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