DSM's Montreal facility was originally designed and built by BioIntermediair, a Dutch biomanufacturer acquired by Gist Brocades in the mid-1990s. The facility became part of DSM when the company acquired Gist Brocades in 1999. It offered cell culture development and production up to the 2,000 L scale, and microbial fermentation development and production up to 3,500 L. It was built with the financial participation of Société generale de financement du Québec (SGF), a government-sponsored economic development agency. DSM bought out SGF's 40% stake in the facility in July 2005 as a prelude to the shutdown.
DSM announced in 2002 that it would launch a $200 million expansion of the Montreal facility. That expansion was to include infrastructure to support up to four 15,000 L bioreactors, two of which were to be built immediately and become operational in 2005. SGF was to finance 40% of the cost of that expansion, but after funding some initial engineering work, the DSM management board refused to commit to funding the expansion program amid uncertainty about the direction of the biopharmaceutical market and biomanufacturing technology.Ultimately DSM management concluded that the Montreal operation would never be profitable. In fact, the company expects to add €20 million to its pretax bottom line by closing Montreal along with DSM's South Haven, MI, chemical API manufacturing site.
AN OVERCROWDED MARKET
DSM's decision to close the Montreal operation is no surprise given that the biomanufacturing industry has too many players. The Pharm-Source Contract Services Database counts over 40 providers of contract biomanufacturing and process development services, primarily in North America and Europe. Most of these are small enterprises that operate small development- and pilot-scale bioreactors and fermenters (i.e., under 1,000 L) and have revenues under $10 million.
The issue isn't one of overcapacity. In fact, the cumulative capacity of the bottom 2/3 of providers would barely add up to the size of two commercial bioreactors. Rather, it is performance that should be of concern in this overpopulated market. While the five contract manufacturing organizations (CMOs) with large-scale capacity (10,000 L and larger) can practically dictate their terms, the 35 small-scale providers are competing so fiercely for the available projects that profits are hard to come by. In addition, because the available projects are spread over so many providers, few biomanufacturers are accumulating the critical mass of experience and expertise that can deliver top quality process solutions and manufacturing performance.
The biomanufacturing industry would be better off with fewer players, but it doesn't look as though a real shakeout is coming any time soon. Aside from the DSM Montreal operation, the only other company that is likely to drop out in the near-term is Abgenix, which has been selling excess capacity at its Fremont, CA, facility. Amgen will acquire Abgenix and that capacity will be dedicated toward internal product development. In the meantime, two new CMOs (Cytovance, Oklahoma City, OK and Cook Pharmica, Bloomington, IN) will come on line in 2007.
FOCUS ON TECHNOLOGY
Despite the Montreal facility shutdown, DSM remains committed to biomanufacturing. Just a day after announcing the shutdown, the company announced the expansion of its strategic alliance with biotech firm Crucell to promote Crucell's proprietary PER.C6 expression system.
The companies said they will "develop and offer a fully integrated PER.C6 protein and monoclonal antibody production package" for protein and monoclonal antibody production. The package will include optimized clone generation technology, tailored media, fermentation processes (batch, fed-batch, and perfusion), fermentation equipment design, and regulatory support. The companies will establish a joint R&D center with facilities in the U.S. and the Netherlands.