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Amgen pumps $365M into new Ohio ‘smart facility,’ where 400 staffers will be aided by robots, AI and more

Ohio has recently proved an alluring target for biopharmas of all sizes, from gene therapy player Sarepta Therapeutics to biotech-CDMO hybrid Forge Biologics. Now, Big Pharma Amgen is getting in on the action, with plans to stand up its “most digitally advanced facility” just outside the state capital. 

Amgen is dropping $365 million on an upcoming smart factory in New Albany, Ohio, where it will eventually employ 400. Set to feature the company’s “most advanced” assembly and final product packaging capabilities, the plant will tackle the last manufacturing steps for U.S.-bound injectables, according to a release from local development council The Columbus Region. 

The build-out of the 270,000-square-foot plant is set to begin in the fall, Amgen said. The company’s investment will cover land and construction costs plus manufacturing equipment. Amgen, with an expected annual payroll of about $40 million, will be on the prowl for new technician, engineer, quality assurance and quality control hires, plus administrators and managers.

The company has already started recruiting certain full-time staffers, with plans to boost hiring efforts in 2022 as construction nears completion, Arleen Paulino, senior vice president of manufacturing at Amgen, said over email. The site is expected to come online in early 2024, she said. 

The goal is to make the assembly and packaging site Amgen’s “most digitally advanced facility,” Paulino said. By leveraging the latest manufacturing technologies there, the company also hopes to get ahead of “anticipated growth in demand” for Amgen drugs, Esteban Santos, executive vice president of operations at Amgen, said in a statement. 

The “smart facility,” as Paulino put it, will rely on digital tech, including artificial intelligence and automation, across three areas: advanced industrial automation using robotics and equipment automation; digital quality for automated inspection, testing and real time release of manufactured batches; and data availability to monitor and manage process and operational performance.

The site will employ “highly automated” storage and retrieval systems, automated guided vehicles to ferry materials, and collaborative robots as just a few examples, Paulino said. The so-called “cobots” work alongside human employees, as opposed to industrial robots, which do work in place of those employees.

Amgen didn’t delve into specifics about the products it plans to package at the new plant, but the main focus will be parenteral drugs, Paulino said. The facility will assemble, label and package autoinjectors, syringes and vials for a plethora of Amgen meds, she said.  

Amgen has also recently been recognized for its environmental, social and governance work—an increasingly valued metric of corporate social sustainability—and those efforts will be on full display at the New Albany plant. The company is building the facility to “exacting environmental standards” as part of its mission to achieve carbon neutrality by 2027.

It will also support Amgen’s role as a founding member of OneTen, a multi-industry coalition of major companies that aims to hire 1 million Black Americans into well-paying jobs over the next decade. OneTen specifically focuses on those without a four-year college degree, Amgen said.

Meanwhile, Amgen is linking up with The Ohio State University, which has pledged to co-develop an internship program, alongside “other experiential learning opportunities,” centered around the plant.

It’ll be in good company in the Columbus, Ohio, region, where a suite of biopharmas have set up shop over the past year. Rare disease specialist Sarepta is pumping more than $30 million into a so-called Gene Therapy Center of Excellence in Columbus, economic development agency JobsOhio reported last June. The company plans to hire 100 new employees to staff the 85,000-square-foot plant.

Meanwhile, self-styled gene therapy “development engine” Forge Biologics, which is headquartered in Columbus, recently raised $120 million to take its adeno-associated virus contract manufacturing services to the next level. Forge’s Columbus home base and factory, dubbed The Hearth, currently employs about 75. The company plans to increase its headcount there by roughly 150 over the next 18 months, Forge CEO Tim Miller, Ph.D., told Fierce Pharma in April.