Build Versus Buy in the Current Biotech Market Environment - How current economic conditions affect your build-or-buy decision. - BioPharm International


Build Versus Buy in the Current Biotech Market Environment
How current economic conditions affect your build-or-buy decision.

BioPharm International
Volume 23, Issue 9


When deciding whether to build your own capacity or buy it from a CMO, prioritization of what is most important to you as a company should be key. Although your available budget and the return on investment must be considered, your choice shouldn't be made on potential costs alone. Several factors should be weighed before you make your choice:

  • Risk tolerance: Are you willing to put some (or all) of the responsibility for product development and manufacturing into the hands of a trusted partner?
  • People/expertise/core competencies: Can you assemble a team to execute various project tasks, or do you require support from an external source for things like basic process development and manufacturing, or for specialized activities like fill-and-finish?
  • Manufacturing scale and production forecast: How much of your product will you need to complete your clinical trials or to support commercial demand? Will your company have available capacity at the proper production scale to meet your needs?
  • Technology: What technologies will be required to manufacture, test, and finish your product? Do you already have the appropriate science and equipment in place? Do you have the budget and time to obtain the required technology, or is partnering with a CMO the best option?
  • Timelines: Is there pressure from investors or the market to achieve a clinical or commercial milestone by a particular date? How will the required project tasks fit with the expected timeline? Will building or retrofitting a facility fit with the timeline, or do you need to use a CMO to achieve your milestones?
  • Geography/cultures/currencies/ communication: Does closer necessarily mean better? Are currency exchange rates critical to your project budget? Are you prepared to communicate across various time zones and possibly cultural influences?
  • Regulatory affairs (RA)/clinical sites: What is your target market and will you need to include several locations around the globe in your plan to submit a regulatory filing? Do you need to have your own facility and RA staff in the same location as the clinical sites? Is there a CMO out there that can fully support your regulatory plans?
  • Intellectual property/control: Does your company wish to control its IP completely, or are you willing to share your know-how with a trusted CMO partner? Will you grant a license to a business partner who will take your product through to commercialization, or do you prefer to maintain control, including manufacturing, throughout the product's lifecycle?
  • Number of products and their development/clinical phase: You should plan for success, but the "what ifs" of failure also need to be considered. Do you have one or two products in the early phase of development, or is your portfolio well balanced with products in all stages of clinical development and clinical trials? It does not make sense to build a new facility if your pipeline cannot support it.


If you have the option to build a facility from scratch ("greenfield") or to retrofit an existing space, you must carefully scrutinize what is available to support the production of your product. A greenfield facility will be fit for purpose from the beginning, but various challenges may arise for a company that choses to build, including keeping to the construction budget and timeline; employing people with the proper background to ensure that the facility is fit for purpose; and training staff to install, validate, and operate equipment. On the other hand, it may be more difficult to retrofit an existing space because the existing space must be able to accommodate the new equipment while perhaps maintaining (and re-validating) some of the legacy infrastructure (e.g., clean-in-place and steam-in-place skids, utilities, tanks, water supply). Any compromises in facility design will need to be weighed against planned production and regulatory requirements.

If you do decide to build, consider that there are several manufacturing technologies to choose from:

  • Disposable, single-use, or limited-use manufacturing equipment: Some of the benefits of these components and systems include a low initial capital outlay, fast installation, and reduced routine operating costs, because these can reduce or eliminate the requirement for cleaning or cleaning validation. Although the use of a completely disposable production train is not common, biotechnology companies are beginning to investigate this as an option.4 For particular types of products such as viral vaccines, disposables are indispensable.
  • Stainless-steel systems only: Stainless-steel systems are proven for manufacturing products reliably and reproducibly; the technology is common, so process transfer between manufacturing sites (internal and external) is relatively straightforward, and these systems can support various types of products. But consideration should be given to budget and timeline requirements for installation because they tend to be expensive and time-consuming to order, install, and validate. Cleaning will be a continuous challenge for the lifetime of the system.
  • Hybrid systems consisting of disposable and stainless-steel components: This option seems to be the most popular for manufacturing biopharmaceutical products.4 Systems can be designed to meet your facility and product requirements, using a "best of both worlds" approach.

Before making your decision to build or retrofit, consider that regardless of the equipment you choose to install, maintenance and materials supply will be a continuous endeavor. Planning for time and costs to operate and maintain these systems should be included in your overall product lifecycle design.

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