Think of it as a combined bottling line and pizza oven. But rather than churning out bourbon, Ale-8-One or Italian pies, this high-speed manufacturing line will fill 100 sterile vials a minute with pharmaceuticals for injection into patients.
Piramal Pharma Solutions showed off its new multimillion-dollar machinery Thursday to about 20 clients flown in from around the country. Before a ribbon-cutting ceremony, Mayor Jim Gray and Vivek Sarin, executive officer of the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development, hailed it as a big step toward Kentucky’s goal of becoming a center for all kinds of advanced manufacturing.
India-based Piramal Group bought Coldstream Laboratories from the University of Kentucky in January 2015 for $30 million. With the addition of this high-speed manufacturing line, plus a similar one in the same building that will be operational in early 2019 and permit more drugs to be freeze-dried, that investment will have more than doubled.
Piramal began with 97 employees here and now has 160. That will rise to more than 200 when the second production line is finished. Executives said most of those jobs are for well-paid scientists and technicians who research and develop drugs, produce them and handle regulatory compliance for customers worldwide.
“This is a big step forward for the business we have in Lexington,” said John Fowler, who recently became Piramal’s chief operating officer and is in the process of moving to Lexington from Philadelphia.
“To be able to get the right people to support the financial investment in equipment we need access to talent,” said Fowler, noting that the company has a close relationship with UK’s College of Pharmacy. “The nice thing about Lexington is we do have great access to talent with the university.”
Until now, Piramal’s Lexington facility focused on developing drugs and producing limited quantities. Its manufacturing capacity was about 12 vials per minute.
The new line can fill 100 vials per minute with more automation. Vials are heated to 400 degrees to kill any germs, filled with drugs and sealed without humans ever touching them. “It greatly simplifies the manufacturing environment,” Fowler said.
The Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority last year approved $940,000 in incentives for the expansion.
During Thursday’s tour, vials were being filled with water to test equipment and help employees with training. The next step will be filling vials with solutions to make sure the environment is sterile. Actual production begins early next year.
Piramal Pharma Solutions, based in Mumbai, India, has a dozen facilities around the world, including Lexington and two others in North America.
Piramal had research and development capabilities for injectable drugs, but no manufacturing facility until it acquired Coldstream Laboratories at the Coldstream Research Campus, which had opened in 1991 as UK’s Center for Pharmaceutical Science and Technology.
“Now we can offer an end-to-end solution to a lot of our customers,” Piramal CEO Vivek Sharma said in an interview.
One of the company’s biggest challenges has been keeping up with customer demand, Sharma said. That is only expected to increase, which could mean a lot more growth for the company’s Lexington facilities.
“We have only been here two years and made this commitment,” Sharma said. “We are looking to add more capabilities beyond what we are working on right now.”