Abraxis opens flagship nanotech manufacturing plant in Phoenix

November 23, 2009

By hammersmith

The west side of Phoenix is now home to one of the most sophisticated nanobiologics manufacturers in the world.

On Nov. 4, Abraxis Health, a subsidiary of Los Angeles-based Abraxis BioScience Inc., officially opened its new protein nanobiologics plant at the former site of Watson Pharmaceuticals. Having invested $70 million in upgrading and expanding the facility, Abraxis will be able to produce 10 million units annually, with the potential to expand to twice that volume to meet global demand.

“What could have been a major failure, the closing of the Watson facility, has actually turned into a big win,” said Robert Green, president and CEO of AZBio, the statewide biosciences trade association, in the Phoenix Business Journal. “The landing of a firm as prestigious as Abraxis surely gets noticed in the industry and helps build our international reputation. Our job now is to welcome the staff and ensure they are integrated into our community.”

When Abraxis bought the existing facility, it hired some 100 former Watson employees. Abraxis founder and Chairman Patrick Soon-Shiong said that the up to 200 employees will ultimately work at the plant, with a total investment by Abraxis of $100 million.

“The outlook for Abraxis is immensely encouraging,” Dr. Soon-Shiong said. “As we continue to grow, these new premises in Phoenix will become the flagship manufacturing facility for our cutting edge technology.”

The Phoenix plant, the most technologically advanced of Abraxis’s three manufacturing sites, will at first mainly produce Abraxane, a novel chemotherapy agent approved for treating metastatic breast cancer and now in advanced clinical studies for the treatment of lung cancer, melanoma, ovarian cancer, and pancreatic cancer. Abraxane is approved for treating breast cancer in 38 countries, with 2008 sales revenue of $335.6 million.

In the future, the Phoenix site may also manufacture other treatments based on Abraxis’s proprietary nanotechnology platform, in which particles of therapeutic agents are encased in albumin, a protein that occurs naturally in the body. In the case of Abraxane, the technology allows delivery of the chemotherapy agent paclitaxel without dissolving the drug in toxic solvents.

“This is great news for Phoenix,” said Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon. “We are delighted that Abraxis has chosen our city for this state-of-the-art nanotech manufacturing plant, bringing highly skilled jobs and a welcome boost for our economy.”

Dr. Soon-Shiong said in the Arizona Republic that Abraxis is exploring potential research partnerships with several Arizona institutions. Already, Abraxis has issued a significant challenge grant to support the nonprofit BioAccel, which promotes economic development in Arizona via the commercialization of late-stage research.

“I was attracted to Phoenix when I started seeing what was being done here,” Dr. Soon-Shiong said in the Republic.

Abraxis Health and personalized medicine

In January, Abraxis announced the creation of Abraxis Health and said that it would concentrate on biomarker development and personalized-medicine applications, while Abraxis BioScience would focus exclusively on developing additional clinical applications for Abraxane and marketing the drug worldwide.

In its announcement of Abraxis Health’s creation, the company noted that as part of the separation of the divisions, Abraxis Health would take over the drug discovery, pilot manufacturing, and development operations previously managed by Abraxis BioScience.

Besides Abraxane, Abraxis is currently involved in dozens of clinical trials for at least five other drug candidates built on the nanoparticle albumin-bound (nab) technology, including one based on the compound docataxel, which is similar to paclitaxel. That drug candidate has reached Phase-3 clinical trials for lung and prostate cancers.

One element of Abraxis Health that appears likely to involve Arizona collaborators is what the Los Angeles Times referred to as a “medical information highway.”

In January, 2008, Abraxis announced that it would be working with the Phoenix-based Translational Genomics Research Institute on such a project, describing a National Personalized Health Network to support the conduct of evidence-based personalized-medicine clinical trials. In an interview with the Times this month, Dr. Soon-Shiong explained the rationale for the network.

“My concern is that the science of molecular medicine is evolving so rapidly that doctors can’t keep up, and the only way for them to have decision support is for them to have access to information in real time,” Dr. Soon-Shiong said in the Times. “And they need to have that information at the point of care. We need to have this medical information highway.”

For more information:

A doctor without borders,” Los Angeles Times, 11/22/2009

Abraxis opens expanded plant in Phoenix, expected to create 200 jobs,” Phoenix Business Journal, 11/05/2009

Abraxis Health Dedicates State of the Art Nanotechnology & Biologics Facility in Phoenix, Arizona,” Abraxis news release, 11/05/2009

Abraxis Biosciences dedicates its new lab in Phoenix,” Arizona Republic, 11/04/2009

Abraxis BioScience Announces Plan to Create Abraxis Health, a New Enterprise Focused on Biomarkers and Personalized Medicine,” Abraxis news release, 01/20/2009