[THE INVESTOR] Inside the plants of Celltrion at Songdo, Incheon, on a recent visit, there was a constant buzz as machines ran on full capacity to churn out 1.4 million biosimilar injection units.
Biosimilars are key to the recent success of the local biotech firm that rose to fame with Remsima, also known as Inflectra in the US, a cheaper copy of the original Remicade created by Johnson & Johnson. The world’s first approved biosimilar monoclonal antibody is used to treat arthritis and Crohn’s disease, among others.
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The two plants at Songdo that focus on research and production span some 190,712 square meters. Due to the sprawling size, employees ride bikes or golf carts to commute from the headquarters to other facilities.
Now, facing escalating demand for biosimilars, Celltrion will double the production capacity of its first plant to 100,000 liters by 2018, with commercial production expected by 2019. A third plant will also be built with a capacity of 120,000 liters to meet the increasing demand. It was originally set for an annual capacity of 90,000 liters, but the figure was pushed up, with commercial production scheduled to begin in 2021.
With this, Celltrion’s total capacity will climb to 310,000 liters from the current 140,000 liters to overtake German drug giant Boehringer Ingelheim.
“We are also actively outsourcing some work to overseas contractors, as we believe our plants in Songdo will soon hit maximum capacity,” Celltrion CEO Kim Hyoung-ki said in an interview with The Korea Herald and The Investor.
That’s because in addition to existing products, Celltrion is eyeing other biosimilars in more advanced and profitable markets such as the US and Europe. The drug maker launched Remsima in November last year as Inflectra in the US, and hopes to grab a bigger slice of the US$5 billion market that is currently dominated by original medications.
“We are looking for a US contract manufacturing firm to improve the logistics and better cater to demand for Inflectra, as we expect its market share to grow at a fast pace in the US,” the CEO said.
The total accumulated exports of Remsima, or Inflectra, exceeded 1 trillion won (US$877.16 billion) in 2016 -- just four years since shipments started.
Similar to Apple, which was built from a garage, Celltrion was launched from a container back in 2002. It had some success as a contract manufacturer for global drug makers such as Sanofi, on the back of which it made investments for developing biosimilars, leading to the birth of Remsima. Truxima and Herzuma followed -- both forecast to be future global blockbusters by industry watchers.
By Park Han-na (firstname.lastname@example.org)