Thursday, October 06, 2005

Genentech Construction Schedule Hits it Mark

Article Last Updated: Saturday, Aug 20, 2005 - 10:40:44 pm PDT

Biotechnology giant Genentech, Inc. is expanding it's Vacaville campus in a $600 million for manufacturing buildings. Photo by Gary Goldsmith

Genentech Construction Schedule Hits it Mark
By Jeff Mitchell

VACAVILLE - Building what is expected to be the world's largest biotechnology manufacturing plant ain't easy.

But with Genentech, Inc.'s Vacaville campus expansion at about the half-way point, the building process now becomes more art than brawn, company officials said.

With much of the structural steel and walls in place, the complicated, delicate process of fitting out the new laboratories and manufacturing spaces has begun.

To successfully grow the large amount of mammalian cell proteins needed to produce the drugs it makes, the company has deftly merged biology, high technology and mass production into one seamless process.

But to make even more of the life-saving, anti-cancer drugs it currently produces, the company is paying out a whopping $600 million for new manufacturing buildings which will allow it to more than double current production levels.

"We are right on schedule and things are proceeding smoothly," said Frank Jackson, a Genentech vice president and chief honcho of the Vacaville campus. "(The construction process) is an exciting thing to watch."

Officials with the biotech industry leader say they have few regrets about making the decision to move its manufacturing division away from the urban environment of South San Francisco, where the company's chief research laboratories and administrative headquarters still are found.

"Obviously, the geography of the site was critical, but we also wanted to locate in a place where there's a high quality of life," Jackson said.

He added that a well-educated local labor pool and supportive local leaders played into the decision to locate in Vacaville originally and into the call six years later to expand the site.

The new project, which when complete will make the site the largest biotechnology plant in the world, involves the construction of three manufacturing buildings measuring a total of 380,000 square feet and one 135,000-square-foot administration/laboratory building.

The sheer scale of the construction has already changed the physical profile of what was already a formidable facility.

The project will use some 9,000 tons of structural steel, 250,000 feet of piping, 18,000 cubic yards of concrete and 250 miles of wiring before it will be ready for occupation, company spokeswoman Kelli Wilder said.

During a recent tour of the site's laboratory and manufacturing areas, highly polished stainless steel has been transformed into myriad shapes - all of which are designed to enhance production and to make cleaning surfaces in the labs easier.

"As you can see, there is a vast amount of plumbing involved in what we do. All of it's custom made and it has been engineered to extremely exacting tolerances," said Mark Fischer, a senior manager with the company's portfolio management group.

Like the existing facilities, everything in the new buildings will be built around the idea of keeping cell production as sterile as humanly possible, Fischer said. Cleaning regimens, for instance, involve mopping - not just sweeping - the laboratory and manufacturing hallways three times every day.

And, just to make sure that no germs survive the thrice-daily mop down, the company changes the cleaning fluid chemistry itself once a month, Fischer said.

City officials are delighted construction is on schedule and said the expected increase in jobs is eagerly awaited. Currently, the facility employs some 740 people. Once the expansion project is completed, that number will jump to about 1,100 employees, Wilder said.

"Being the home of the largest biotech manufacturing plant in the world brings the kind of notoriety that any city would covet," said Mike Palombo, Vacaville's economic development manager. "We're pleased to hear that construction is on schedule. We're looking forward to the project's completion. It's a great thing for the company and for the city."

Reach Jeff Mitchell at 427-6977 or

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