Pfizer breaks ground on lab expansion in Chesterfield
By Julie Bierach, KWMU
St. Louis, MO – The world's largest pharmaceutical company is breaking ground on a multi-million dollar expansion of its labs in Chesterfield.
Pfizer is expanding a key facility where scientists produce protein therapeutics for early state clinical trials, and the expansion will put St. Louis in the middle of cutting edge research.
The $50 million expansion comes as construction is already underway in Chesterfield on a separate, $200 million research facility. It sits on the northwest side of the campus and will house about 250 researchers who will develop new drugs.
A few feet away, a smooth concrete slab awaits the expansion of another facility, the JJ building. That's where scientists manufacture biologics.
"Essentially, biologics are large molecules that require cells to make them." says John Mott, the director of cell line development at Pfizer St. Louis.
Most people are familiar with small molecule drugs, those that are taken in tablet form and are absorbed in the gut. Biologics are large molecules that are usually injectable and made from a living system.
Mott says they're usually derived from cells of mammals, but can also be made from yeast and bacteria. "We take the genes that encode the sequence for these proteins and we put them into what we refer to as vectors, which are all basically molecular DNA manipulations and then put these vectors into the cells and the cells then make the protein," he said.
The JJ building is unique to Pfizer because it's the only facility within their Global Research and Development organization. So, any biologic discovered at any Pfizer site around the world would be transferred to St. Louis.
"This represents a significant step forward in regards to bringing forward new medicines," added Dan Getman, Vice President of Research and Development and the Director of Pfizer's St. Louis lab.
He's a chemist, and along with any other scientist you speak with there says biologics are the future of medicine because they allow doctors to attack diseases they can't with small molecules.
"A great example of that is cancer," Getman says. "It's probably one of the areas right now that's most undergoing a revolution because of a lot of these biologics.
"And what they're allowing us to do is come up with new medicines that meet unmet needs that actually have significantly less side effects than some of the older cytotoxics that have been the mainstay of cancer therapy for say the last 20 years."
Pfizer is investing $50 million in the expansion. Combine that with the $200 million the company is putting into the new research building and that adds up to a tremendous economic impact, according to Denny Coleman, president of the St. Louis County Economic Council.
"He says the County is considering granting the company nearly $7 million in property tax abatement over 10 years, plus a sales tax exemption on construction materials.
"We, along with our partners in the state of Missouri, have worked very hard on these various incentive packages in order to reduce the cost of doing business for Pfizer here locally," said Coleman. "And we feel that that has been one of the reasons that Pfizer has continued to make investments."
Dr. Jerome Katz, with the Cook Business School at Saint Louis University, agrees that St. Louis is a good place for Pfizer to grow because St. Louis is part of an elite group at the top of the bio-tech industry.
"If there's a particular kind of lab if there is a particular kind of expert in biologics or biotech that is not immediately available at the Pfizer facility, chances are they are available within a fifty mile radius," notes Katz.
Even though local economists are excited about the financial impact the expansions are likely to have, Dan Getman, at Pfizer St. Louis says it's not just about that.
He says in an industry that's often criticized - where it costs a billion dollars to bring one drug to market and where scientists can spend a decade working on a drug that fails - it could be easy to lose sight of their goal.
"The fact that we're investing in these facilities because we've got this great pipeline of new opportunities coming forward that could really make a difference in people lives," Getmen says.
Pfizer expects the New Research Building to open by late 2008 and the JJ Building by late 2009.