Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007

MedImmune moves forward with new lab

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With the ribbon-cutting ceremony for its state-of-the-art manufacturing pilot laboratory Thursday, MedImmune Inc. stayed true to its promise to keep expanding in Maryland following the company’s sale in April for $15.6 billion to AstraZeneca of London.

The new laboratory has a 5,000-liter capacity facility comprising seven bioreactors that can increase by four-fold MedImmune’s capability to manufacture products for clinical trials.

‘‘This lab offers tremendous flexibility and we can now make more than one product at a time and produce at a much greater scale,” said David M. Mott, CEO and president.

Concerning another MedImmune plant under construction in Frederick to produce biological therapies, Mott said that a decision was made after the AstraZeneca purchase to double that plant’s fermentation capacity. It will increase MedImmune’s production of its lead product, Synagis, and future products by 12-fold, he said.

‘‘MedImmune will become the worldwide biologics base for AstraZeneca,” Mott said.

When the sale of MedImmune was announced in April, AstraZeneca spokeswoman Emily Denney told The Gazette that MedImmune’s ‘‘recent commitments to build manufacturing plants in Frederick was another key to the agreement ...”

‘‘Let me remind you that manufacturing biologics is a new area for us and this suggests that we want to retain the talent and value there,” Denney said.

State Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot presented the company with a plaque Thursday to commemorate the new lab.

‘‘I have watched MedImmune grow here when I was a state delegate from its humble beginnings to a world leader that it is today,” said Franchot (D), a former legislator from Takoma Park. ‘‘It is the future of Montgomery County and Maryland.”

Mott hearkened back to the early 1990s when MedImmune was one of four tenants renting space above a bank on Firstfield Road in Gaithersburg. ‘‘We now have 3,000 employees and more than half of them in Maryland.”

The pilot lab facility has six floors and about 133,800 square feet, including utilities space.

In prepared remarks, Franchot said that MedImmune’s capabilities in science and energy are matched by the wealth that it has created for the area.

In December, the city of Gaithersburg approved the pilot lab facility for occupancy. The company said material production at the plant would begin next year.

Franklin Top, a co-founder of MedImmune in 1988, was on hand to represent the company’s investment spinoff, MedImmune Ventures Inc.

‘‘My sense is that there is interest to expand MedImmune Venture’s interests into new areas that are strong at AstraZeneca,” Top said, adding that the venture may be investing in research on pulmonary and neurological diseases, as two examples.

MedImmune generated more than $1.2 billion in revenue in 2006.

Technology licensed to Novartis

In other news last week, MedImmune announced it has licensed its proprietary reverse genetics intellectual property to pharmaceutical giant Novartis of Basel, Switzerland, to support the development of new influenza vaccines.

Reverse genetics is a method by which viruses such as influenza can be generated from segments of DNA, so manufacturers do not have to work directly with potentially highly infectious pandemic strains, such as H5N1.

MedImmune will receive an upfront payment with the prospect of receiving royalties on vaccine stockpiles or sales of other influenza products developed using the reverse genetics technology.

This report originally appeared in The Business Gazette.