Spurred by innovative technology with the potential to save lives, Lonza has grown steadily in the Netherlands since it first established a foothold in the country in 2017.
The Swiss company, a global manufacturing partner to the pharmaceutical, biotech and nutrition industries, most recently expanded its cell and gene (CGT) process and analytical development laboratories at its facility on the Brightlands Chemelot Campus in Geleen. The expansion brought the current facility to about 6,000 square meters, according to Tiemen van der Heide, Vice Head of Lonza Netherlands.
Coupled with a fast-growing team of CGT process development experts, the expansion supports the company’s ability to meet the increasing global demand for cell and gene therapies process development expertise. The Geleen site currently has about 350 employees, more than triple the number it had when Lonza acquired PharmaCell in 2017 and began work there, van der Heide said.
The Brightlands campus is home to more than 100 startups and is considered the regional cornerstone for new biotechnologies and business in the South of the Netherlands. Van der Heide shares. ”The Brightlands campus is our partner for providing flexible infrastructure solutions for our future growth on the campus. We are very connected with the Brightlands community in terms of their ideas, technology and their people.” The Dutch have a very collaborative mindset, he noted, and are developing innovative technologies that are solving global healthcare challenges.
Central location, infrastructure, talent fuel success
The combination of the Netherlands’ strategic location, excellent infrastructure, collaboration opportunities in the Dutch Life Sciences & Health ecosystem and the ability to attract highly educated talent from the region and around the world has helped fuel the growth and success of Lonza Netherlands.
“The Netherlands operation has been critical because it allows us to serve patients across Europe,” said Fatma Senkesen, Lonza’s Head of Divisional Projects, Cell & Gene, based in Basel, Switzerland. “For several of our projects, we are working with fresh products that need to find patients within 48 hours of being processed. The Geleen facility is quite central and sits on the border of three major European countries – Germany, France and Belgium.”
The proximity of Lonza’s Netherlands facility to other European mainland countries, as well as to several universities and charming cities like Geleen and Maastricht, has also made it relatively easy for Lonza to attract talent, Senkesen said. “We’re attracting highly skilled people from all over Europe and beyond.”
At last count, 38 nationalities were represented at Lonza’s Brightlands facility, according to van der Heide. “It’s a very international place, but nearly everyone speaks English,” he said.
The Netherlands is also a strategic location for serving Lonza’s customers, Senkesen pointed out. “Many of our customers can come from France, Germany, Belgium and Israel as well as U.S. based customers that require European footprint,” she said. “Our facility is relatively close by and it seems everyone likes to come to visit.” The Netherlands is also known for its excellent transportation network, making the facility easy to access.
Hub for innovative therapies
“The Netherlands is fast becoming a hub for developing highly innovative therapies,” Senkesen said. “Lonza is working on groundbreaking, curative therapies that can help treat cancer and rare diseases.”
In simplest terms, she explained that CGT allows doctors to take a patient’s own cells, modify the cells genetically to arm them against the disease and then bring them back to the patient to treat the disease at its core. The technology has been transformative for many patients compared to traditional chemotherapy and other treatments, she noted.
Geleen facility poised for mRNA expansion
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lonza Netherlands partnered with Moderna to produce millions of vaccine doses. Van der Heide said that it was a “very fruitful collaboration with Moderna and a key enabler in bringing mRNA/lipid nanoparticle process development and manufacturing to Lonza’s Netherlands site.”
Along with CGT, “mRNA is one of the most innovative and exciting emerging technologies,” van der Heide said. “We are maturing the Geleen site and getting it ready for mRNA/lipid nanoparticle clinical manufacturing at the beginning of next year. In September 2023, we plan to inaugurate a new building and start with process development. Our intent is to expand and move from clinical into commercial production in the next few years,” he said.
Good government support
The Dutch government has been supportive of Lonza through the years, according to van der Heide. “We need flexibility and agility because speed to market is critical. If we need to scale up rapidly, Brightlands has already made the pre-investments so if we need a new suite or lab, we can build it more quickly than starting from scratch. We were recently visited by the Minister of Foreign Affairs who wanted to know how best to support us,” he recalled.
“The Dutch and Swiss governments are also collaborating to support the cell and gene therapy environment because it is so beneficial to patients and the society as a whole,” Senkesen added. “I see even more support and visibility coming during the next years as they recognize the need to scale up and build quickly to support growing demand for these therapies.”