Bluebird bio announced the official opening of its first wholly owned manufacturing facility in Durham, N.C., that will produce lentiviral vector for the company’s investigational gene and cell therapies, including: bb2121 and bb21217 for the treatment of multiple myeloma and potentially LentiGlobin for the treatment of transfusion-dependent β-thalassemia (TDT) and sickle cell disease.
Gov. Roy Cooper, Secretary of Commerce Tony Copeland and local patient advocates will join chief bluebird Nick Leschly in a ribbon cutting ceremony at the 125,000-square-foot facility. Currently, bluebird employs approximately 50 scientists, engineers, manufacturing and operations personnel at the facility and is on track to grow to approximately 70 employees by the end of 2019.
“At bluebird bio, we view every aspect of our path to helping patients as both a privilege and a responsibility. This includes the expertise that we’ve poured into the construction and operation of our manufacturing facility, because it is a crucial step toward our mission of bringing a new generation of treatments to people living with severe genetic diseases and cancer,” said Leschly. “Our teams in North Carolina and across the globe are working to deliver treatments that will make a big difference for a lot of patients and families. This is what drives our ambition to bring four gene therapies forward in the next few years.”
“North Carolina is proud to bring bluebird bio’s cutting-edge work to Durham,” Governor Cooper said. “bluebird is developing treatments for devastating diseases that could change the course of medicine. And, with the Triangle’s highly-skilled workforce, it will continue to be a leader in the biotech field.”
bluebird bio purchased the facility in November 2017. Once completed, the company will have invested more than $80 million building a world class site equipped with multiple manufacturing suites capable of producing lentiviral vector (LVV). The facility also includes warehouse and quality control testing laboratories. The facility construction is substantially complete and equipment qualification is underway. Initially, bluebird bio expects the facility to produce clinical and commercial supply of lentiviral vector, which is a critical component of the company’s gene and cell therapies. The facility is large enough to accommodate significant future expansion, including the possibility of manufacturing commercial drug product.
The goal of gene therapy is to change or replace faulty genes with functional ones in order to prevent, treat or cure a disease. Vectors are selected parts of viruses that have been genetically modified so they can deliver new genes into cells without causing an infectious disease. Prior to gene therapy treatment, copies of functional genes are added to a vector — the delivery system — in a laboratory setting. The vector, with copies of the functional gene, is added to blood stem cells collected from the patient. The cells that now have functional copies of the gene are referred to as gene-modified cells.
In addition to the Durham facility, bluebird bio also has multi-year agreements with three manufacturing partners in the United States and Europe: Brammer Bio (Cambridge, Mass.), Novasep (Gosselies, Belgium) and MilliporeSigma, the Life Science business of Merck KGaA (Carlsbad, Calif.). Each of these partners is collaborating with bluebird bio on production of lentiviral vector across all programs. bluebird bio also partners with Lonza (Houston, Texas) and apceth Biopharma (Munich, Germany) to produce drug product for Lenti-D and LentiGlobin.
bluebird will receive an Economic Development Award from NCBiotech upon meeting job creation targets in North Carolina and will also receive life-sciences-specific employee training support through the North Carolina Community College System’s Customized Training Program.