With the global biopharmaceuticals and biosimilars markets expected to grow significantly in the short to medium term, Queensland is uniquely positioned to establish itself as the leading supplier in the region.

Australia is justifiably proud of its world-class medical research, but until a few years ago Queensland’s researchers and biotech firms had to manufacture biologic drugs for clinical trials overseas.

Woolloongabba-based Patheon Biologics was established in 2013 to manufacture biopharmaceuticals locally. Along with several other players, the Queensland Government invested $107 million in the construction of the manufacturing facility leased by Patheon - plus the co-located Translational Research Institute (TRI) - at the Princess Alexandra Hospital.

Patheon Biologics is part of a global life sciences and materials sciences company headquartered in the USA with 26 manufacturing sites located across 11 countries. The Brisbane operation provides clinical manufacturing, analytical services, process validation, technical transfer, commercialisation strategies and biomanufacturing solutions at its 2000 square metre manufacturing space. This capacity is set to double in the next two years as Patheon expands its operations into a second floor of the commercial manufacturing facility.

The ability to manufacture drugs in Australia is significant as it facilitates greater control of the production process; reduces costs; and further enhances Queensland’s growing high-value niche biopharmaceutical research, development and commercialisation supply chain. This includes training of industry-ready graduates and support for international and local biopharmaceutical companies to progress their innovative discoveries into drugs of the future. Equally important, it heralds the return of Australian life scientists and bioengineers who were previously part of an overseas ‘brain drain’.

Patheon has experienced growth of about 30 per cent per annum over the past few years and now employs more than 130 people. Queensland has a well-deserved reputation as a hub for the training and development of industry-ready biopharmaceutical scientists, and Patheon Biologics is a key player in their development. The company provides an opportunity for Queensland biomedical scientists and engineers, including new graduates, to work for a global biomedical enterprise where they develop highly transferable, commercially relevant skills.

Patheon is one of only two companies in Australia with dedicated, commercial-scale biopharmaceutical manufacturing capabilities that meet ‘current Good Manufacturing Practices’ (cGMP) regulatory standards. This standard ensures medicinal products used in early phase, investigational clinical trials are of sufficiently high quality to ensure the safety of trial participants. Patheon undertakes cGMP contract manufacturing of biopharmaceuticals using mammalian cell lines and is the first manufacturing facility in Australia to do so on a commercial scale. Mammalian cell lines mimic the human body and are better tolerated and more effective in treating diseases.

In a further sign of success, in December 2016, Patheon announced a significant collaboration with Brisbane-based NuNerve to develop a new drug to treat motor neuron disease (MND). Based on research by the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) and the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, the two companies will develop, process and manufacture a protein that may assist in the repair of damaged motor neurons. The University of Queensland and QBI will evaluate the drug and determine if human trials will proceed.

Patheon has also benefited from its close association with the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN) at the University of Queensland, the National Biologics Facility (NBF) and the ARC Training Centre for Biopharmaceutical Innovation (CBI), both located at AIBN. CBI and NBF are both focused on early stage developments and produce highly skilled, industry-ready scientists, many of whom have been employed at Patheon Biologics in Brisbane and beyond in the global Patheon company.

National and international businesses wanting to access Patheon’s contract manufacturing services in Brisbane have also been attracted by the company’s excellent reputation, the Australian Government’s R&D Tax Incentive, and Australia’s efficient regulatory pathway. Patheon’s growth has also helped some of its customers to establish relationships with local service providers, further supporting biopharmaceutical product development.

In the next 18 to 24 months, Patheon will continue to help early-to-late-stage clinical trials move through to commercial manufacturing. It will also continue its close collaboration with universities to ensure science and engineering graduates are highly trained and job-ready.

General Manager Dr Kym Baker, a former expat who returned to Queensland to work for Patheon and sits on advisory boards at QUT and UQ, reports that more than 95 per cent of Patheon’s employees are tertiary educated. ‘We’re working collaboratively to streamline course work at universities across Australia to produce better graduates,’ she explains.