GRAM to triple or quadruple capacity by 2020
Parenteral contract manufacturer responding to demand from biologics and pharmaceutical industries.
A 9-year-old company is well on its way to expanding into a fifth facility on the southwest side of Grand Rapids.
Founded in 2010 to acquire the assets of a joint venture between the Van Andel Institute and Grand Valley State University, Grand River Aseptic Manufacturing (GRAM) provides sterile parenteral development, manufacturing, testing and regulatory filing support for the life sciences and pharmaceutical industries.
Parenteral refers to medicinal solutions administered somewhere in the body other than the mouth or alimentary canal, including injections or infusions that are intravenous (into a vein), subcutaneous (under the skin) or intramuscular (into muscle).
GRAM’s aseptic manufacturing capabilities include sterile liquid and lyophilized (freeze dried) vial filling and finishing; terminal sterilization of vials; controlled substances handling and production; labeling and packaging; and storage and distribution.
In March 2018, the company purchased from GVSU and a private seller the lot on the corner of Butterworth Street SW and Tolford Avenue SW about 100 yards from one of its current facilities, at 140 Front Ave. SW, according to a previous Business Journal report.
By October, St. Louis-based CRB, a design-build firm that specializes in constructing pharmaceutical facilities, began work on GRAM’s $60 million expansion project at the Butterworth site — a 61,500-square-foot facility that will have a state-of-the-art cleanroom, two formulation suites, 14,000 square feet of room to grow and $15 million worth of high-speed equipment that will enable GRAM to produce commercial batches of all sizes.
Thomas Ross was one of GRAM’s original investors in 2010 and joined the company as president and CEO in 2013.
He said GRAM chose CRB as the contractor after a global search for a construction firm that could build the facility on time and on budget with all the capabilities needed.
The project timeline will be shorter than average, Ross said, because CRB is designing the facility in stages as it’s being built.
“That approach actually saves six to 12 months off the overall timeline,” he said. “It will be done in October 2020. That’s a two-year total timeframe, and typically, a building of this scale would take about three years.”
Getting the facility online in less time will enable GRAM’s growth rate to begin climbing once more after it fell to a rate of about 15% to 25% last year following years of exceptional growth.
GRAM landed on the Inc. 5000 list of the nation’s fastest-growing private companies in 2017, 2018 and 2019, with three-year growth rates of 791%, 703% and 173%, respectively.
Ross said once the Butterworth facility is open, GRAM will “triple or quadruple” its capacity from day one.
The company already has four facilities it will keep: its original location at 140 Front Ave. SW; a first-floor space in the former Steelcase building that connects to the Consumers Energy Leadership Center at 120 Front Ave. SW; a first-floor space in the historic Bicycle Factory at 201 Front Ave. SW; and a finishing facility about 1 mile south, at 837 Godfrey Ave. SW.
Ross said GRAM already has many of the capabilities the new building will have — with the exception of the isolator technology — but the new equipment will be about four times faster and there will be more automation.
He anticipates the expansion will grow the company’s annual revenue to $100 million, up from the 2018 revenue of $27.4 million that GRAM reported to Inc.
So far, GRAM has hired 22 new employees as a result of the expansion — in addition to its existing workforce of more than 150 — and it is planning to hire up to 80 more.
These aren’t your average entry-level jobs, Ross said — meaning, they carry more economic impact.
“They’re typically college-educated, highly technical positions focused on the sciences, such as biology, chemistry, microbiology, biomedical — the roles that we fill would be in all those areas, including validation, computer system validation and those are very highly skilled, typically highly compensated positions,” he said.
The life sciences and pharmaceutical industries are growing at a quick clip in West Michigan and beyond, meaning more business for companies like GRAM.
For now, GRAM plans to stick with its area of specialty, Ross said.
“We have a tremendous amount of opportunities in front of us just in our existing space, in the sterile injectable world, and we will continue to stay highly focused on that market, but we also will be opportunistic on other opportunities, which could include potential acquisitions.”
He added GRAM is grateful to the community and the state for its support of the project.
“We’re very appreciative of the support from the community here in West Michigan as well as the state. We’ve been treated very well by the city of Grand Rapids, and then the MEDC also gave us support for the expansion, and we were very grateful for that support to be able to continue to invest here in Grand Rapids,” he said.
“This is my home, this is where my kids were raised, and to be able to create this significantly large leader in the life sciences space has just been an incredible feeling personally, as well as professionally.”