Lotte to Make Cutting-Edge Cancer Drugs at New Manufacturing Center in East Syracuse
Tuesday, March 28, 2023
Syracuse, N.Y. – South Korean conglomerate Lotte is planning to open a center at its pharmaceutical plant in East Syracuse to manufacture a new type of drugs that target cancers like a guided missile.
Michael Hausladen, general manager of the former Bristol Myers Squibb plant, said Lotte will equip a building idle since 2010 to make antibody-drug conjugates, or ADCs, which target cancers by using antibodies to carry chemotherapy agents directly to the site of a tumor.
Lotte does not plan to develop such drugs of its own. As a contract manufacturer, it will manufacture them for other pharmaceutical companies, he said.
Hausladen said there are fewer than 20 approved ADCs in the world but lots more are in clinical trials. So the potential for them becoming a major source of growth for the plant is great, he said.
The idle building will be gutted and then equipped to make the new type of drugs.
Monoclonal antibodies are chemically linked to a chemotherapy drug, the ADC’s “payload.” According to the National Cancer Institute, the antibodies bind to specific proteins or receptors found on certain types of cells, including cancer cells. The linked drugs enter these cells and kill them without harming other cells.
The new ADC center is part of a $70 million investment that Lotte Biologics CEO Richard Lee said in September the company will make in the East Syracuse plant following its acquisition.
Creation of the center will build on the plant’s long history of manufacturing cutting-edge medications.
Bristol built the plant in 1943 at the height of World War II to produce penicillin, the new miracle drug to fight infections. It made up to 70% of the country’s supply of penicillin until production was phased out in 2010 amid a shift to biologics.
The ADC center is only one step toward a long-term expansion at the 90-acre site. The company says lots more jobs and drugs are coming.
Lotte Biologics, a newly formed subsidiary of Seoul-based Lotte, bought the Thompson Road plant from Bristol Myers Squibb on Jan. 1 for $160 million. Lotte said it plans to make the plant its U.S. headquarters for manufacturing biologics, which are medications derived from a variety of natural sources (human, animal or microorganisms) rather than from chemicals.
Since the acquisition, the company has hired 20 people in East Syracuse and is actively hiring for about 50 more positions, Hausladen said.
The new hires are back-filling finance, supply chain, quality control, health and safety, security, legal services and other support jobs formerly handled by corporate personnel at Bristol locations elsewhere.
When it took over the plant, Lotte offered jobs to all 388 Bristol employees in East Syracuse, and 384 of them accepted, Hausladen said.
“It was fantastic that we had that kind of retention of staff,” he said. “It was extremely important. Everyone here has an important job that they do, and we didn’t want to lose any of them.”
A ribbon-cutting ceremony is scheduled to be held at the plant on April 17.
Lotte has an agreement to produce medicine worth $220 million for Bristol over the next three years. But in addition, the company is seeking other customers for which it can manufacture drugs.
Already, potential customers have visited the facility, the first step in a process that includes technology transfers and U.S. Food and Drug Administration approvals, Hausladen said.
Approvals will also be needed for the FDA equivalents in any other country in which a drug made at the plant will be sold. Sixty countries have approved the plant for the manufacture of Bristol drugs made there, but new approvals will be needed for medications made for other customers, he said.
“Initiating manufacturing for another company is not something that happens overnight,” said Hausladen. “It takes a good amount of time to establish a new customer in the facility. We expect to be producing for other customers in 2024.”
The backfilling of former corporate support jobs is not the only new hiring that’s planned for the pharmaceutical plant.
Hausladen said Lotte will need additional operators, managers, quality control and assurance technicians, maintenance workers, health and safety, supply chain, information technology and human resources professionals to support the additional manufacturing.
In addition, Lotte plans to add new packaging capabilities, he said.
Under Bristol, the facility packaged drugs in bulk and shipped them to “fill and finish” facilities at other Bristol locations where they were repackaged into smaller dosages that could be dispensed to patients. Lotte plans to create a fill and finish facility in East Syracuse, eliminating the need to ship drugs elsewhere for repackaging, Hausladen said.
The company is also looking at building additional manufacturing facilities in East Syracuse to produce smaller quantities of drugs for clinical trials, he said. That’s something Bristol once did in East Syracuse but was not doing when Lotte took over.
The plant sits on 90 acres of land and has plenty of space for new buildings. Ten years ago, Bristol demolished 60 of the site’s 118 buildings. Many of the demolished buildings had previously been used to produce penicillin. Some dated back to the 1940s.
Lotte’s expansion of the plant comes after years of cuts by Bristol.
Bristol employed more than 2,000 people in East Syracuse in the early 1980s at the height of its penicillin production and had 820 employees in 2007. But after the company began phasing out penicillin production in 2010 and opened a new biologics manufacturing center at the former Fort Devens army base in Massachusetts, the East Syracuse plant’s workforce shrank significantly.
Hausladen said Lotte will need to expand the workforce as it boosts drug production at the plant. It plans to partner with local universities and community colleges to recruit graduates to fill jobs, he said. In addition, it is looking at establishing apprenticeship programs that would allow people without college degrees to obtain operator and maintenance jobs at the plant, he said.
He said Lotte has had no problem finding qualified people to fill the new jobs in East Syracuse. But he said it expects to face competition for labor once Micron Technology opens a giant semiconductor plant in Clay. Micron says the plant, which it expects will go online in 2026, will employ up to 9,000 people directly and create 41,000 supply chain jobs nearby over the next 20 years.
“When Micron starts hiring, there certainly is the potential they could take some of our staff,” said Hausladen. “We’re working hard to create an environment where people won’t want to leave.”
Eventually, Micron’s arrival likely will help Lotte by drawing lots of capable workers to the area, he said.
“We’re going to have a strong, capable pool to pick from,” said Hausladen. “In the short run, there will be competition for workers, but in the long run, I think it’s going to be good for us.”