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Merit claims record for biotech plant completion speed

Phase one of Autolus Therapeutics’ CAR-T cell manufacturing facility is complete

The UK’s first CAR-T cell manufacturing facility has been completed in Stevenage just 17 months after conception.

While the cancer-busting work that will go on inside the building is cutting edge, so too have been some of the construction methods employed to speed it along.

Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapy is a cellular therapy that redirects a patient’s T cells to destroy tumour cells. The CARs are genetically engineered in a laboratory.

Main contractor Merit says that the new labs that it has built for Autolus Therapeutics Stevenage have been completed in record time at 17 months, which is three years faster than the biotech industry standard of approximately five years, it says. This included planning and design and only 12 months spent on site.

Northumberland-based Merit was appointed main contractor to deliver the new four-storey 7,500 sqm facility for Autolus Therapeutics. The £66m facility is part of a larger plan to create a life sciences district in Stevenage by developers, Reef Group and UBS Asset Management.

The phase one completion of the facility saw the handover of Grade C clean rooms to Autolus.

The design of the new facility uses Merit’s Flexi Pod, which is described as a hybrid of modern methods of construction for the shell and core, and an offsite manufactured fit-out, is facilitated through a pre-assembled module (PAM) and pod strategy.

Merit’s product-based approach enabled three-quarters of the construction work to take place offsite, with 300 PAMs and 15 Ultra Pods equating to 900 tonnes manufactured in Merit’s 270,000 sq ft factory in Northumberland and shipped to Stevenage for installation.

Merit said that not only did it reduce build time, it also reduced capital and revenue costs for Autolus, as well as external professional consultant fees.

Merit chief executive Tony Wells said: “This project is of critical importance to the UK biotech industry and therefore we are very proud to have been able to deploy our unique offsite construction methods to deliver this vital facility in record time. Productivity is an issue in traditional construction methods, but our approach means projects are delivered more quickly and also crucially more sustainably.”

Piers Slater, chief executive of the developer Reef Group, added: “Combining the expertise and capability of UrbanR, our in-house design division, with Merit’s innovative and technology-based approach from concept design to commissioning and validation, produced a unique and successful recipe for accelerating the construction programme of what is very a complicated project. We look forward to collaborating on future projects in the knowledge economy across our platform.”

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