In January 2000, ImClone Systems began construction of a new 100,000ft² biopharmaceutical manufacturing facility in Branchburg, New Jersey.
On 24 October 2008, ImClone was given an acquisition offer of approximately $6.5bn by Eli Lilly. ImClone Systems accepted the offer and the acquisition was completed by Eli Lily’s subsidiary Alaska Acquisition Cooperation on 24 November 2008.
Three days after the bid was made, it was thought that a lawsuit would stop the merger plans after complaints were made by a Massachusetts pension fund claiming that the ImClone board breached its fiduciary duties by not providing enough material information to shareholders to make an informed decision about whether to accept Eli Lilly’s offer.
The merged company targets a broader array of solid tumour types, including lung, breast, ovarian, colorectal, head and neck, supporting Eli Lilly’s growing portfolio.
On 18 August 2010, the company announced its decision to close down the Branchburg facility following Eli Lilly’s decision to stop producing Erbitux (cetuximab), a treatment for head, neck and colon cancers.
The Branchburg facility (BB36) was constructed by Kvaerner at a cost of $53m and was completed in early 2001. Kvaerner was also responsible for engineering, procurement, construction and validation duties at the new facility.
The Branchburg facility has been used for manufacturing, product development, finance, clinical, regulatory and quality assurance (QA) and commercial operations.
The facility was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in July 2002 to produce investigational quantities of Erbitux.
Erbitux is a monoclonal antibody (mAb) that was developed to treat patients with advanced colorectal cancer that had spread to other parts of the body. Erbitux is used as a combination treatment to be given intravenously with irinotecan or alone if patients cannot tolerate irinotecan.
The BB36 plant was able to produce clinical quantities of Erbitux for extensive Phase III clinical trials, which were completed in 2004. Erbitux blocks the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFr), which is associated with tumour cell growth and repair in a number of solid tumours.
The FDA approved Erbitux for advanced colorectal cancer in February 2004. In Europe, the drug is licensed for use in combination with Irinotecan. It was shown that the combination of Erbitux and irinotecan, a chemotherapeutic agent, produced positive responses in patients who did not respond well, or at all, to treatment with irinotecan alone.
The drug was also shown to be of value in the treatment of patients with refractory advanced squamous cell head and neck carcinoma in combination with the chemotherapeutic agent, cisplatin. Erbitux in combination with gemcitabine was also shown to be effective in treating patients with pancreatic carcinoma.
At the end of 2005, Swiss authorities granted a marketing authorisation (MA) for Erbitux for use in combination with radiotherapy as a treatment for locally advanced squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (SCCHN) in untreated patients. ImClone Systems initially developed Erbitux for use in multiple cancer indications and this was the first approval for a new additional indication.
In April 2006, Merck announced that the European Medicines Agency (EMA) had approved the use of Erbitux as an adjunctive treatment for head and neck cancer. ImClone and Bristol-Myers Squibb also filed a supplemental biologics licence application with the FDA in Q3 2005 to seek approval of Erbitux for use as a single agent and in combination with radiation in SCCHN. The approval of these filings was granted in March 2006.
ImClone Systems used Lonza Biologics as a contract manufacturer to produce Erbitux in the clinical phases to back up the supplies from its own plant. The FDA approved the Lonza Biologics manufacturing site and the Branchburg facility in letters of approval in February 2004. The supplies of Erbitux produced at the Lonza Biologics site served as initial supplies for the commercial market.
The US marketing of Erbitux was carried out by Bristol-Myers Squibb, which has now made payments to ImClone totalling $2bn. The drug is marketed by Merck in Europe, which also makes royalty payments on the gross profit from sales.
US sales of Erbitux reached $1.2bn in 2009 and worldwide sales were more than $361 million in the same time-scale.
The Branchburg facility was a single-product plant, with a capacity of 30,000l and a production volume of 250kg/year of Erbitux. It was given full commercial production clearance in June 2004.
The plant was renovated and extended by Silcon (construction) and Lawton and Burns (mechanical and process engineers) in January 2003 to increase process efficiency and production capacity. However, the demand for Erbitux was immediately more than the capacity of the small facility at Branchburg.
ImClone contracted Lonza Biologics to make up the shortfall and set out to expand the Branchburg facility to be the primary production site for Erbitux and other investigational compounds.
In mid-2004, a $260m investment was made to expand the plant to a multi-product facility, with three production suites, downstream facilities and a total of 110,000l of production capacity.
The construction was underway in late-2004 and was completed and in full production following an FDA validation process by early 2006.
Kvaerner was responsible for the engineering and project management along with Binskey and Snyder for the construction, Victaulic for the pipefitting and Midwest Mechanical Contractors of New Jersey for the process engineering.
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