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of the nature of Provenge, a product that depends on having a rock-solid, seamless supply chain. It’s not a standard pill in a bottle, or even a complicated antibody or protein drug in a vial like other biotech products. Provenge is aspiring to the be the first treatment ever approved in the U.S. to stimulate the immune system to actively fight cancer cells like a virus.
Dendreon’s approach requires blood to be drawn from a patient, and some white blood cells vital to the immune system, called dendritic cells, to be separated in a lab. The cells are shipped to the company’s manufacturing plant and incubated for a couple days with a genetically engineered protein found on prostate cancer cells, called PAP. This process is supposed to “teach” the immune system to recognize cells with this marker as foreign and fight them. It’s sort of like waving a red flag in front of a bull. These newly revved-up white blood cells are shipped back in cold storage from the Dendreon factory to the clinic, and re-infused into the patient, giving them new ability to fight off the cancer. This process of collecting blood, shipping to the factory, and returning it a couple days later to the clinic must be repeated three times in one month for every patient.
There are an estimated 100,000 patients in the U.S. that are candidates for the drug, so that could end up being a lot of infusions. If a patient ever got injected with cells from the wrong package or, say, a snowstorm shut down the New Jersey plant’s ability to meet demand for even a week or two, this could mean howls of protest and big trouble for the company. To keep everything running on time, and to have backup transport modes ready, it probably doesn’t hurt to keep the travel distances shorter.
Dendreon also simply needs more manufacturing capacity for the drug. Once its first factory starts running full tilt after Provenge is presumably on the market next year, it will be able to supply about $500 million to $1 billion worth of the treatment, Dendreon’s Gold has said. Since analysts expect peak demand for the product will easily eclipse that, it only makes sense that the company will need another drug factory in the southeastern U.S. (and maybe more in other parts of the country).
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