REDMOND — At 130,000 square feet, the company behind the region’s newest pharma lab is touting just how small it is. But that’s the point.
Just-Evotec, a life sciences company jointly based in Seattle and Germany, opened its new facility on Wednesday , where it will discover, design and manufacture drugs. The company says its novel “J.POD” lab infrastructure and its production processes allow it to be faster and cheaper than most other drug-production facilities.
The facility produces “drug substances,” or bulk quantities of drugs that are sent elsewhere to be finished and filled into vials and syringes.
“We have the most advanced manufacturing facility for manufacturing biologics on the planet,” said James Thomas, global head of biotherapeutics at Just-Evotec, during a ribbon-cutting event. “This is a really a large building, but it’s actually probably two or three times smaller than an equivalent facility.”
The new facility — on the opposite side of SpaceX’s office in Redmond — is an unassuming building from the outside. But inside are sprawling boardrooms, snack-filled lunchrooms and state of art high-ceiling labs with 38,000 square feet of manufacturing space.
Despite how small and efficient it may be, the facility exceeds many of the largest leases made in 2020 for lab space in Seattle, according to a recent report by commercial real estate services firm CBRE. The new facility is part of the Seattle area becoming one of the country’s top markets for life science lab space. The city has 913,000 square feet of lab research and development space currently under construction.
Thomas said Just-Evotec’s efficiency — making more product with less space — is made possible by its continuous manufacturing process. Instead of preparing materials in batches, the company moves them immediately from one stage of production into the next. The company says this efficiency could ultimately result in more affordable medications.
The company also said its efficient operations are what allowed it to build the facility in just 19 months, compared to construction that may have otherwise taken several years.
Just-Evotec will contract its space to pharmaceutical and biotech companies to produce antibody-based therapies, which are derived from the human immune system. Thomas said antibody-based therapies have the potential to treat “every area” of diseases and disorders, including oncology, heart disease and more.
The Department of Defense will begin using the facility this fall to make monoclonal antibodies for the virus that causes COVID-19, a contract worth $28.6 million, which was awarded to Just-Evotec in January.
“Fighting a pandemic [and] seeing variants come through really highlight how important it is that we … can scale in terms of response with biologics,” said Rep. Suzan DelBene, a Democrat representing Washington’s 1st Congressional District, at the event. Just-Evotec’s new facility “is an example of that” capability, she said.
The Department of Defense did not respond to a request for additional details on the contract.
Just-Evotec is the product of a 2019 deal in which Evotec, a Germany-based biotech company, acquired Seattle’s Just Biotherapeutics for $90 million.
Just Biotherapeutics was founded in 2014 by Thomas and a team of scientists, many of whom spent long careers at another biopharmaceutical company Amgen. When Amgen shut down its mammoth waterfront Seattle campus in 2014, nearly 700 employees were let go, leaving a pool of biotech talent searching for opportunities.
“Many of us didn’t really want to leave Seattle,” said Thomas. “We decided, ‘well, why don’t we start a company, and let’s build on what we’ve done in the past. And let’s actually try … to make it more accessible.'”
In April, Evotec announced it was applying the company’s J.POD drug production approach to a second location in Toulouse, France.
The goal is to “make this technology globally available,” said Werner Lanthaler, CEO of Evotec, “not only building one J.POD in the U.S., but building basically a network of J.POD’s throughout the planet.”