- Spark Therapeutics, the pioneering biotech company behind the gene therapy Luxturna, plans to invest more than half a billion dollars to build a new development and manufacturing center in Philadelphia, its home since being founded eight years ago.
- The facility, which will be located on the campus of Drexel University and span 500,000 square feet, is meant to become a gene therapy hub for Roche, which bought Spark for nearly $5 billion in 2019.
- Construction is set to begin toward the end of next year, Spark said in a Friday statement, and will be completed by around 2026. The facility is also part of a long-term partnership between Spark, which was built around research conducted at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and Drexel.
Between Children's Hospital, an influential center of cancer cell therapy research, and the University of Pennsylvania, home to James Wilson's sprawling gene therapy laboratory, Philadelphia is at the heart of genetic medicine's boom.
Alongside those academic centers, a cluster of cell and gene therapy biotechs has formed, most notably Spark but also Amicus Therapeutics, Passage Bio, Century Therapeutics and several others.
Spark's new center is now a sign of commitment from the biotech's pharmaceutical owner Roche, based in Switzerland but with an extensive network of labs under its banner. The planned $575 million investment is particularly notable, on par with major facility expansions from Eli Lilly, Pfizer and Amgen in recent years. And at 500,000 square feet, the new center is larger in footprint than many gene therapy manufacturing plants being constructed by other companies.
Jeff Marrazzo, Spark's CEO and cofounder, said the ability to invest in an expansion of this size is one reason why the company became excited about the prospect of being acquired by Roche several years ago.
"[Roche CEO] Severin Schwan and I, back even as early as late 2018 when we first started our conversations about Spark possibly being acquired by Roche, had a very consistent view of what we needed to do next in the field of gene therapy," Marrazzo said in an interview.
The planned facility is a result of that shared view and will dramatically expand the companies' capabilities for developing and manufacturing gene therapies.
The first phase of construction, parts of which could be finished as early as 2025, will deliver a mix of laboratory and office space as well as three manufacturing suites, which could eventually be expanded to as many as 12.
The site will be able to produce gene therapy products for use in clinical testing, but also for commercial sale, Marrazzo said. Through Roche, Spark currently sells in the U.S. one gene therapy, Luxturna, which treats a form of genetic blindness, and has additional therapies for hemophilia A and B in late-stage development.
The facility will also be able to support production of any gene therapies developed within the broader Roche group, in addition to Spark's own candidates.
Marrazzo anticipates Spark will roughly double the size of its current 800-person workforce over the next five years. More than 500 of those employees will work in the new facility, he said.
Notably, the site is adjacent to two other Spark buildings that currently house the company's research team and its manufacturing science team.
"What we think is necessary right now is the co-location of those groups," Marrazzo said, "because what you find out in the clinic early in a new program might be related to something you need to go back into the lab, or it might be related to your manufacturing process."