Pall Corporations / Thijs van de Kerkhof
Vaccines have been front-page news over the past two years. Consequently, the already growing industry has seen a rapid rise in the need for specialized single-use products that support the manufacture of vaccines and biopharmaceutical drugs worldwide. For Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers, the use of specialized single-use technologies such as those produced by Pall Corporation has directly enabled the development of these manufacturing processes at unprecedented speed and scale. Among the products Pall manufactures are single-use bioreactors that many vaccine producers use to grow the materials they need prior to filtration and separation.
Operations Manager Thijs van de Kerkhof, at Pall’s Medemblik facility in the province of North Holland, explains their role in the market, using the analogy of a domestic inkjet printer. ‘When you buy a printer, you have two key components – the printer and the ink cartridge – and you need both to function perfectly to ensure quality output. Likewise, the hardware for producing vaccines is a one-off purchase, but every time you need to make a new batch of vaccine, you require a single-use system, equivalent to the inkjet cartridge, and that is what we supply.’ He explains that the market switched to this model several years ago, specifically because it enabled faster, more flexible, and cost-effective manufacturing. With the onset of Covid-19, demand skyrocketed. ‘When I started here three and a half years ago in this role, we had around 250 employees, and now we have 600, and we need to grow to 1000. We operated a two-shift system, five days a week until August of 2020, and we went to 24/7 operation as of the 1st of April this year.’
To support the market and fulfill demand, Pall is opening factories in South Carolina, in the US, expanding an existing site in Puerto Rico as well as in China. ‘Pall Corporation’s headquarters are in the US; however, the business unit here in the Netherlands manufactures around 80 percent of the company’s single-use technology. Today, we are Pall’s largest single-use technology (SUT) plant.
‘We were originally a Dutch company and were acquired by Pall in 2013. Pall was subsequently acquired in 2015 by Danaher Corporation, a Fortune 500 company in the US. Throughout this period, we have become increasingly specialized in supporting the production of medicines and vaccines. This emphasis continues, and the operation in Medemblik is phasing out its heritage products to allow complete focus on the current biotech SUT business.’ The Medemblik facility convinced the parent organization that investing in the Netherlands was the optimal strategy for growth. With assistance from regional development organization Noord Holland Noord, Pall put together a bid book detailing the business case for the location. The broader Invest in Holland network is also assisting throughout the company’s continued growth, with recruitment and connecting Pall with other organizations in the Dutch Life Sciences & Health ecosystem.
Van de Kerkhof states that a supply of new talent is crucial if the company is to meet its ambitious growth plans. ‘First, we have to concentrate on creating simple and robust processes that make it easier to train new employees. This is crucial when onboarding so many new people, especially when training them to work in cleanroom environments and according to GMP guidelines.’
He explains that the company currently works with two recruitment agencies to ensure the stream of new talent. It is a massive human resources enterprise. ‘We onboard around 15 to 18 people each week, and that will soon grow to 35 per week. So, within each four-week period, we will have around 140 new employees.’
Production at Medemblik requires a considerable logistics effort. Van de Kerkhof explains, ‘Our supply chain utilizes products from all around the world, so we fly most of our raw materials in. Being located close to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport is a considerable benefit. Also, when we ship our products to customers across the globe, the excellent logistics infrastructure in the Netherlands really helps.’
The Medemblik site is also expanding to keep pace with the market demand. ‘We have three cleanrooms for the SUT business, and an expansion in 2020 created a fourth cleanroom for that purpose. Additionally, once the heritage business has been phased out in the coming weeks, we will gain yet another cleanroom. So, within four months, we will have extensive cleanroom space to align with the continued growth in our output of SUT products.’
Van de Kerkhof is optimistic about the future of Pall’s SUT products. ‘The current focus, understandably, is primarily on Covid-19 vaccines. However, the technology we supply is often identical to those needed to support the growing gene therapy market for the treatment and cure of many diseases, including cancer. With a growing number of therapies in the clinical pipeline, it is clear there is a great need for the products we supply. For us, the future is bright in terms of growth. Our aim is to support all our customers with quality products that help to manufacture life-changing drugs.’