A company that makes ingredients used in various pharmaceutical drugs unveiled Wednesday its expanded Verona space, which will help meet rising demand for a compound used in cancer treatments that can serve as an alternative to chemotherapy.
MilliporeSigma, the U.S. and Canada life science business of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, with a location at University Research Park on Madison’s West Side, first announced the Kettle Moraine Trail expansion project in 2020 as a $65 million, 70,000-square-foot enterprise that the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. said would create 50 jobs in the area. MilliporeSigma also has spaces in Milwaukee and Sheboygan.
The project reached its completion this week, marked by an opening event that drew dozens of business leaders, MilliporeSigma executives, Verona city officials and other attendees.
“Wisconsin is proud to have innovative life science companies like MilliporeSigma that are reshaping the way science impacts our daily lives and health,” WEDC CEO Missy Hughes said. “This new facility is not only an investment in the region but a game-changer in supporting the treatment of cancer.”
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Merck, the world’s oldest pharmaceutical company, was founded in Germany in the 17th century and has 60,000 employees in 60 countries.
MilliporeSigma has 1,700 workers across Wisconsin with 350 in Dane County — 400 by the end of the year. The company has been in the Dane County area for about 30 years, and MilliporeSigma's Verona building was first erected in 2010.
Now, MilliporeSigma is looking to a future of not only accelerated growth and revenue, but the production of highly potent active pharmaceutical ingredients to help meet an increasing need for a type of cancer treatment that has fewer side effects for patients than chemo, said Matthias Bucerius, senior vice president of synthesis, ADCs and contract manufacturing development. The business works with more than 50 total pharmaceutical companies globally.
Known as antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs), which MilliporeSigma manufactures at its Missouri campus, the medicine can specifically target cancer cells in the human body to kill them.
Chemo, on the other hand, uses radiation to kill both good and bad cells, explained Bucerius, adding that ADCs produce fewer side effects for patients. The highly potent ingredients are what the ADC releases inside the human body to destroy cancer cells.
There are 13 ADCs approved worldwide, nine of which have come online since 2019, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
And the types of conditions ADCs can currently treat include breast and colon cancers, Bucerius said, adding that the medicine’s capabilities are only expected to expand as more innovation occurs.
The “first experimental design” of ADCs dates back more than 50 years ago, according to a 2019 article published by the National Library of Medicine titled “Antibody-Drug Conjugates: Possibilities and Challenges.” At the time the article was published, around 160 ADCs were undergoing preclinical trials and 70 more were under “various stages of clinical evaluation.”
The value in the global market for ADCs is estimated to be expanding at an annual growth rate in excess of 20%, and is expected to reach $15 billion by 2030, according to an August 2019 report by the European Pharmaceutical Review. In 2021, Merck itself made around $20 billion, said Joe Bergin, head of operations for Verona and Madison.
The Verona expansion project seeks to only grow that amount, having added seven laboratories to MilliporeSigma’s six. Six of the labs support commercial production of the highly potent ingredients, and one is for quality control, Jacqueline Ruff, strategic marketing manager, said during a Wednesday tour of the space.
The staff that will be working in the labs need to undergo about six to nine mines of specialized training to be able to handle the ingredients, Ruff said. That training is done at MilliporeSigma’s Madison space.
That’s because the employees have to work with not only specific types of equipment to produce the pharmaceutical ingredients, but also in a closed environment, and dressed head to toe in safety gear.
MilliporeSigma’s Verona space first broke ground in 2008 as a 51,000-square-foot building in a project that cost $31 million.
In 2013, MilliporeSigma added 13,000 square feet of warehouse space, as well as nearly 2,500 square feet for manufacturing in a nearly $15 million project.
That’s because the location had reached capacity in just the three short years it had been operational, then-site director Dave Bornett said, adding that was driven by customer demand.
Emilie Heidemann picks her 5 favorite 2021 stories
One of the first stories I wrote this year for the Wisconsin State Journal wasn't published last January, but instead at the beginning of September — when I officially took my post as business reporter.
It was about a biotech startup that won the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce's Pressure Chamber contest for the novel ways it was looking to prevent cancer — and a coronavirus infection. The week I wrote that piece was when I discovered the treasure trove of story ideas that made up Madison's business community.
For example, the pandemic has spotlighted how partnerships are have seemed to be a favorable strategy for organizations looking to solve complex issues.
I covered that in an article regarding the State Street pop-up shops, or Culture Collectives. Several organizations came together to fill two vacant storefronts in the Downtown corridor, and simultaneously help minority business owners get their venture off the ground.
More ideas were spawned as I saw how Madison's businesses continue to navigate hiring challenges, supply chain shortages and other trials.
But through all that, there's been an apparent optimism for the future.
That's showcased in how Fitchburg biotech giant Promega has conceptualized a way to detect coronavirus particles in wastewater, as well as how Madison biofuel company Virent aided in United Airlines piloting an aircraft using renewable jet fuel for the first time.
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