Petersburg grows pharma manufacturing hub
A cluster of recent investments by pharmaceutical companies in Petersburg could set the city up to rebuild its manufacturing sector as a major player in U.S. efforts to create and secure a domestic supply chain for producing essential medicines at risk of shortages.
The development centers around the AMPAC Fine Chemicals plant in Petersburg, which was idled by its former owner, German pharmaceutical manufacturer Boehringer Ingelheim, in 2014 due to competition from foreign-made drug ingredients. Gov. Ralph Northam announced May 4 that AMPAC will invest $25 million to expand the plant, creating 125 jobs. AMPAC reactivated the plant in 2019.
This follows a January announcement that pharmaceutical manufacturer Civica Inc. will build a $124.5 million facility adjacent to the AMPAC plant that will create 186 jobs. The effort was supported by a $5.7 million grant from the state Commonwealth’s Development Opportunity Fund.
The two companies are working in partnership with the Medicines for All Institute at VCU’s College of Engineering and Phlow Corp., a company formed in 2020 to use advanced manufacturing practices developed at Medicines for All. Central to their work is a $354 million, four-year federal contract Phlow received from the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to produce essential medications.
Officials are lauding the pharma cluster as an “advanced manufacturing campus” that could attract similar companies bringing high-paying jobs to Petersburg, whose economy has suffered as U.S. manufacturing has declined.
Keith Boswell, president of Virginia’s Gateway Region economic development organization, says the prospect of building a global hub for an emerging pharmaceutical manufacturing sector has energized local leaders in ways he hasn’t seen in years.
“We really think this is the opportunity of a lifetime,” he says. “It’s having a brand-new industry be created out of nothing.”
The initiative was spearheaded by Virginia Commonwealth University professor Frank Gupton, CEO of Richmond-based Medicines for All Institute and Phlow co-founder, to optimize the production of active pharmaceutical ingredients.
A strategic plan released this spring by VCU emphasizes that state and local government need to invest in site readiness, workforce development and available lab space to keep the momentum going.
“You have this opportunity in front of you to do something really unique and different in a space that nobody is in right now,” says Gupton. “If you make those investments, people are out there waiting to come.”