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ImmunityBio founder discusses goals for Athenex plant

OBSERVER Photo by Anthony Dolce ImmunityBio will soon have control of the Athenex plant off Route 5 in the town of Dunkirk.

The new owner of the Athenex plant in Dunkirk believes it is the perfect facility for the future development of vaccines to fight COVID-19, HIV, tuberculosis and cancer.

On Tuesday, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, the executive chairman of ImmunityBio, met virtually with the Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency’s Board of Directors. County Executive PJ Wendel and Legislature Chairman Pierre Chagnon were also on the zoom call. The purpose of Soon-Shiong’s visit was to transfer the tax agreements that Athenex had to ImmunityBio.

Before the county IDA voted, Soon-Shiong shared his vision for ImmunityBio and what role the Dunkirk plant will have in that.

“We’ve made the decision that you and your body have the immune system that we can activate,” he said. “We can change the paradigm of cancer, change the paradigm of infectious diseases and really use what’s called a fusion proteins, cell therapy and vaccines to treat both cancer and COVID, HIV and TB.”

Soon-Shiong said this formula has been studied and researched for the last 20 years and that helped form ImmunityBio.

They have a manufacturing plant in Los Angeles, but Soon-Shiong said it’s too small for what they hope to do, particularly with the fight against COVID-19.

“We’ve been saying since March 2020 when COVID broke, and presented it to both administrations now, that unless we develop a vaccine that gives you durable long-term immunity, across every variant, we won’t get rid of this pandemic,” he said.

That’s why they have a goal to create a vaccine that will actually kill the COVID-19 virus so it can’t replicate.

Soon-Shiong believes they have done that with what they call the T-cell vaccine, which is currently in Phase 3 studies.

Soon-Shiong said the plant in Dunkirk will manufacture the vaccine, which can be sent around the world, at room temperature. “Our goal is to enable a billion doses of RNA and adjuvants to be produced out of this plant,” he said.

Soon-Shiong said they have recently purchased a manufacturing plant in South Africa, where they will make the same product there for that continent, in the fight against COVID-19. “Until we solve the problem in Africa, mutations will continue to occur,” he said.

CCIDA Chairman Mike Metzger thanked company officials for considering Dunkirk for its manufacturing hub. He asked how soon manufacturing might begin. Soon-Shiong said he wants to soon, but couldn’t give an exact date. “Quite literally, we needed this yesterday, so we are moving very fast, as fast as we can,” he said.

Soon-Shiong was also asked how many employees they hope to have in Dunkirk. He said they already have 100 people who were employed by Athenex and those individuals will continue. He said once they bring in the necessary equipment and information from their plants in Los Angeles and Colorado, they plan to “go on a hiring spree.”

During the vote to transfer the financial benefits from Athenex to ImmunityBio, all IDA members voted in favor of the resolution.

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