Melville still gets Italian pharma’s blood pumping

Bloody good: With incentives from Empire State Development and the Suffolk IDA in the bank, Kedrion Biopharma is upgrading its Melville facility.

A Long Island biotech with Italian roots will stay in Melville as it grows its family.

Based in the Tuscany town of Barga, Italy, Kedrion Biopharma is investing $30 million to renovate its only U.S. production facility, a 105,000-square-foot-complex on 11 acres in Melville.

The company – which manufactures plasma-derived therapies for patients with debilitating conditions like hemophilia and immune deficiencies – will rely on production facilities in Italy and Hungary while operations at its Melville plant are suspended during the year-long renovation process.

Forrest McCaleb: New jobs for Melville.

Forrest McCaleb: New jobs for Melville.

That process began in June, according to Forrest McCaleb, the company’s U.S. director of global communications, and should be completed by July 2017.

Kedrion Biopharma had originally planned a piecemeal three-year renovation process with intermittent production disruptions, McCaleb told Innovate LI, but ultimately decided to “invest up front and renovate all at once.”

Its 120 current Melville employees are still on the job, “assisting in validation and testing processes” and otherwise contributing to the renovation work, McCaleb noted.

And their numbers should swell past 150 when the work is done – jobs that could have wound up in a lot of other places.

The primary function of the Melville plant is to “fractionate” plasma samples – separate them into their component parts by a fractional-distillation process– to create what’s called an “intermediate.” The intermediate is then processed into a final therapeutic product at another facility.

Most of the intermediate produced in Melville goes to Kedrion Biopharma’s home-base manufacturing facility in Barga, though some is sent to a North Carolina laboratory run by Spanish pharmaceutical manufacturer (and frequent Kedrion partner) Grifols.

Grifols uses the intermediate to produce immunoglobin, a protein-based antibody used by the immune system to identify and neutralize pathogens like bacteria and viruses.

That means Kedrion Biopharma would have been quite at home in North Carolina, or in any of the mid-Atlantic or southern states – including Florida, Tennessee and Virginia – where it already operates plasma-collection centers, acquiring the raw materials to be fractionated (it also runs collection centers in Los Angeles and Buffalo suburb Williamsville).

But when it came time to expand its U.S. fractionating capacity, the company – which purchased its Melville facility, a former school building later acquired by the New York Blood Center, four years ago – never really thought about leaving Long Island, according to McCaleb.

“We value the workforce that we have in Melville,” the communications director noted. “It’s a great asset to us. And there are certainly large costs associated with relocating an entire manufacturing facility.”

When completed next summer, the renovations will include “updated manufacturing suites that match current-day technology,” McCaleb said, with at least 30 new jobs created.

Confident in its renovation schedule, the company has already begun advertising for some of those positions, which include reliability and validation engineers, health and safety managers, microbiologists, document-control positions and others.

Kedrion Biopharma has received government assistance – or least has had it offered – on more than one occasion.

When it purchased its Melville building in 2012 (from Grifols, which had acquired it from the New York Blood Center), the pot was sweetened by an incentives package from the Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency offering nearly $4.8 million in sales and property tax abatements over 15 years.

The company ultimately purchased the building without the IDA’s assistance. However, Empire State Development, Albany’s main economic-development engine, did award Kedrion Biopharma $1.5 million in performance-based tax credits in 2013.

While it’s happy to open new plasma-collection operations across the country – it will expand from 13 current U.S. collection centers to 30 by 2020, McCaleb said, including two scheduled to open next year in Atlanta – there was only choice for pumping up the lifeblood of the Italian pharma’s U.S. production, according to McCaleb.

“Considering our strong Melville workforce, we weren’t leaving,” he said. “It just made the most sense for us to renovate and upgrade.”