Merit completes the UK’s first CAR-T cell manufacturing facility for Autolus Therapeutics in record time

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Northumberland-headquartered Merit, the UK’s leading offsite engineering and construction specialist for technically complex buildings, has completed the first construction phase of the UK’s first purpose-built CAR-T cell manufacturing facility in record time.

In line with the urgent need to bring life-saving advanced therapies to the UK, Merit delivered the milestone in 17 months, which is three years faster than the biotech industry standard of approximately 5 years. This included planning and design and only 12 months spent on site.

Merit was appointed as the main contractor to deliver the new four-storey 7,500m² facility for Autolus Therapeutics, a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company developing next-generation programmed T cell therapies for cancer treatments. The new facility is part of a larger plan to create a life sciences district in Stevenage by developers, Reef Group and UBS Asset Management, and will assist in the growth of the cell and gene cluster in the town centre, which is currently the third largest in the world.

The phase one completion of the facility saw the handover of Grade C clean rooms to Autolus, enabling them to transition seamlessly into their next phase of growth. Once completed, the facility is expected to process 2,000 treatments annually and create 400 new jobs in Stevenage.

The £66m project showcases Merit’s industry leading position as a disruptor of construction approaches with the objective to bring real improvement in terms of productivity. The design of the new facility utilises Merit’s FLEXI POD®, a hybrid solution which is particularly suitable for complex high technology facilities, comprising aspects of modern methods of construction for the shell and core, and an offsite manufactured fit out which is facilitated through a Pre-Assembled Module (PAM) and POD strategy.

Merit’s innovative product-based approach to deliver this pioneering facility enabled three-quarters of the construction work to take place offsite, with 300 PAMs and 15 UltraPODs totalling 900 tons manufactured in Merit’s 270,000ft² factory in Northumberland and shipped to Stevenage for installation by its specialist team.

The result is a radical step change in construction productivity, sustainability and time to use, reducing carbon emissions while accelerating the delivery programme of the whole project to 22 months – a significant time saving achievement over the five-year average traditional build time for similar facilities in the sector. In addition, it offers Autolus reduced capital and revenue costs, as well as a substantial reduction of external professional consultant fees.

Merit’s commitment to driving measurable improvement for sustainability means the facility has been designed to BREEAM Excellent rating, with scope 1 net zero carbon enabled using heat source pumps and heat recovery systems and 5D BIM technology to reduce waste.

Merit is a trusted and well-respected expert in the construction of biopharma facilities, with experience in delivering an impressive portfolio of high-containment facilities, including the new RNA Centre of Excellence for the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI), Abingdon Health’s lateral flow manufacturing site, and Piramal’s ADC manufacturing facility expansion.

Tony Wells, CEO of Merit: “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 Reef Group: “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.”

Olivia Drew, Portfolio Manager of UBS UK Life Sciences: “As momentum behind the life sciences sector continues to grow, we’re delighted to have partnered with Merit on this next generation facility in Stevenage. Merit’s approach to quality, speed, sustainability and resilience has enabled them to deliver on all the key requirements for this project, and we look forward to continued collaboration across our platform.”