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Teva plans the large-scale production of monoclonal antibodies in Ulm

Teva is investing heavily in its biotechnological production site in Ulm. On behalf of BIOPRO Baden-Württemberg, Walter Pytlik spoke with Dr. Hermann Allgaier, CEO of Teva Biotech, about the importance of biotechnology for the Group and about Teva in general. The company is headquartered in Israel.

Here in Baden-Württemberg, we know relatively little about Teva. What is the importance of biotechnology for the Teva Group as a whole?

Dr. Hermann Allgaier © Teva Biotech

Teva is the leader in the global generics market. It is less well-known that Teva also markets a strong portfolio of innovative medicines. In addition to Copaxone® as one of the most important drugs for the treatment of multiple sclerosis, the biosimilars and biobetters produced in Ulm as well as so-called new biological entities are playing an increasingly important role.

What role does the company’s production site in Ulm have within the Group as far as biotech activities are concerned??

Research and development of biotechnological products takes place in the USA and Israel. Our production site in Lithuania produces proteins from microorganisms, and our production site here in Ulm is specifically focused on the production of proteins and antibodies using cell cultures.

Late last year, Teva announced that Ulm was to become the hub of its biotech activities. Assuming that Teva also considered other places for this purpose, why was Ulm chosen?

Teva is increasing the production of monoclonal antibodies on its production site in Ulm. © Teva Biotech

We carried out an intensive and very detailed analysis of areas in six countries, and decided to go for Ulm basically for three reasons: our team in Ulm has developed and successfully run the existing biotechnological production site, and thus built up a high degree of competence that can now be used to efficiently run the new production plant. Here in Ulm, we have the biotechnological know-how to produce drugs from cell cultures. Another advantage of the site in Ulm is the existing pharmaceutical production infrastructure, which can be used for resources and workflows should the need arise. This is a huge advantage compared to starting up production on a green field with no infrastructure. The third reason is that over the past few years the area around Ulm has become a hub for the production of drugs from microbial and animal cell cultures. Rentschler, for example, is located in Laupheim, Boehringer in Biberach, Vetter in Ravensburg, Roche in Penzberg and Mannheim. And Sanofi is not far away in Frankfurt. There is a commercial spirit embedded in a very lively university landscape where excellent education and training is provided and good employees can be found.

Teva will make a three-digit million euro investment in the development of the company site in Ulm. A Teva representative told us that this is the world’s largest individual investment in a single site. Am I right to assume that Teva is thus moving towards focusing more on biopharmaceuticals with the eventual aim of competing with global biotech companies such as Amgen, Roche and Gilead?

The decision to make this huge investment is of course part of a biotechnology strategy of increased company involvement in biosimilars and innovative biotech products in the future. However, Teva will not become a second Biogen Idec, mainly because Biogen and other companies do not have a generics segment. Teva wants to work with both generics and innovative drugs, which are increasingly biotechnology-driven.

Last June, Merckle Biotec became Teva Biotech. It's six years since the acquisition of Merckle/ratiopharm in 2010. Why did the integration process take so long?

The integration of biotechnological production and ratiopharm into Teva was in fact completed relatively quickly. But it is worth mentioning that Teva has changed considerably since 2010. Teva is no longer the company it was six years ago. The change of name expresses the company’s appreciation for Ulm and its decision to choose the area as its biotech production site. It also underlines the fact that we are looking to leave our past behind us, at least as far as the name is concerned. With the new name, we want to show that we are in fact part of Teva. Of course, the ratiopharm brand will continue to exist, but internally, we are all Teva. The name Teva will also become increasingly important in Germany in future, so changing the name was a good thing to do. In fact, it is an honour to have the name Teva.

Mannheim-based BioGeneriX used to be in charge of R&D but the company no longer exists. So who is in charge of R&D now?

We have been able to bring on board many leading BioGeneriX employees. 80 percent of the company’s management joined us in Ulm, the other employees did not have any problems finding new jobs in the Frankfurt area. R&D activities are now carried out in the USA and Israel.

What is the difference between the old production plant, which became operational in 2006, and the new one?

The existing plant produces first-generation biosimilars and biobetters. These proteins can be produced using perfusion cultures, which also has cost advantages because production can be done on a small scale with moderate levels of investment. Since the 1990s, biotechnology has moved towards monoclonal antibodies that have different requirements in terms of quantity and technology. Monoclonal antibodies are produced using fed-batch cultures. And this made it possible to take a quantum leap in terms of quantity. The new plant will produce monoclonal antibodies on a large scale.

The Ulm/Biberach region and the city of Ravensburg are home to large and medium-sized companies with high demand for highly qualified specialists. And now Teva Biotech wants to create another 300 jobs. Do you want to attract foreign specialists to the southern German provinces? Or are there already enough people here?

Our programme to attract and employ people is very diverse. We have a pyramid to fill, from executive to production jobs. Each requires a different approach. We have launched a diverse “on-the-job training” programme and also have a landing page (www.teva-biotech.de) where we have summarised the advantages of the Ulm site for people from other areas. Ulm is a wonderful city with a great hinterland and many excellent leisure activities on offer. We also have universities and an international school. If people thinking of coming to Ulm know something about the city beforehand, this is a definite advantage.

In the US, biotech companies have a market value of US$ 854 billion, generated US$ 10 billion in profits and sold products worth US$ 93 billion (EY 2015). In Germany, the biotech industry is happy if it exceeds the one billion mark. Is there reason to hope that the former "pharmacy of the world" is on the rise again?

The commercial biotechnology sector made considerable investments in Germany earlier this year. In April, Bayer brought production of the recombinant clotting factor VIII from the US to Wuppertal, and Sanofi once again expanded its site in Frankfurt. However, we are still reluctant to inject money into start-ups. There are only a few really positive examples. CureVac is one of them. However, it is not as easy as it once was to establish a company. Companies like Amgen and Genentech have basically grown with a one-product portfolio. The days when garage companies could become global competitors in the blink of an eye are over. That is just how it is.

Website address: https://www.gesundheitsindustrie-bw.de/en/article/news/teva-plans-the-large-scale-production-of-monoclonal-antibodies-in-ulm