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Greenwood business prepping for insulin boom

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A biotechnology company has reached an agreement to make a drug for a large pharmaceutical company at the plant it’s build­ing in Greenwood.

Elona Biotech­nologies will make a generic drug for the unspecified drug company in addition to the lost-cost insulin it plans to manufacture in Greenwood. The second product will be a significant addition at the 50,000-square-foot manufacturing facility that’s now under construction, chief executive officer Ron Zimmerman Jr. said

Most importantly, a business arrangement with a major pharmaceutical company will give Elona validation, Zimmer­man said.

“This licensing deal pretty much proves to the world what we’ve been saying all along,” he said. “It’s our Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. Everything should go quickly now that it’s in place.”

Elona would make the drug in Greenwood, and the large drug-maker would license and market it. Zimmerman said he wasn’t at liberty to discuss details, such as which company or what type of drug.

The company has developed plans for nine different generic drugs that treat conditions such as diabetes, muscular dystrophy and diminished white blood cell counts during cancer treatments.


What: Elona Biotechnologies, a research and biotechnology firm

Discovery: A new, less expensive way to make insulin and other generic drugs

Plans: The company created subsid­iaries R&D Enterprises to develop new products and Zimmerman Biotech­nologies to make generic insulin and other drugs.

Investment: The company is investing $28 million and plans to hire 70 workers after finishing construction on a new manufacturing facility.

Where: Elona is based in the Sierra Business Center off Emerson Avenue. The 50,000-square-foot Zimmerman Biotechnologies plant is under construc­tion in the Precedent South Business Center east of Interstate 65.

Status: Construction of the office area is complete, and workers are now building the manufacturing area.

Federal approval: The company got U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval to start clinical testing on its generic insulin and has filed for patents for eight other drugs it’s developing.

Elona plans to start ramping up its operations in order to start producing the low-cost form of insulin, Zimmerman said. The company is working on putting together business deals, lining up financing and getting federal approval to sell the drug.

“Employment should increase significantly this year,” he said. “Regulatory approval should reach a fever pitch for more than one project.”

The research firm developed a new, inexpensive way to produce the insulin that’s used to treat diabetes. Its process requires fewer steps than traditional methods, reducing the time and expense.

Elona created the subsidiary company Zimmerman Biotechnologies to make a drug that could be sold worldwide. The company plans to hire 70 workers after building a 50,000-square-foot production facility on Greenwood’s eastside.

Greenwood is giving the company $8.5 million in incentives, including a construction loan to build the plant.

Elona spent about $2.1 million on construction of the facility last year, when 15,000 square feet of office space was added, Zimmerman Jr. said. The company also got $750,000 from its insurance company to rebuild after a storm caused the plant’s roof to collapse.

Workers have since restored the building to what it was last June, before disaster struck, Zimmerman said.

The company decided to use the storm damage as an opportunity to redesign the interior part of the building where the roof fell in, he said. Elona converted about 1,400 square feet of office space into a laboratory and locker rooms while rebuilding, after deciding it would be more efficient.

“We redesigned it from office space to more usable space,” Zimmerman said. “We were able to go ahead and do that at no real cost to us.”

This year, the company plans to complete the rest of the building, including a laboratory setting where it would manufacture the insulin that it will sell, he said. That phase of construction should take about six to eight months.

Elona plans to relocate the 11 employees in its research firm after that work is complete. They’ve been working on licensing the company’s technology for turning proteins into drugs and other business arrangements, including with a Canadian company that wants to manufacture its products in the United States.

Such deals should help raise money that would be used to pay for a bid for U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval of Elona’s insulin, Zimmerman said. The company needs cash in order to make a large enough batch to prove that it can make the drug safely in large quantities.

“It’s one thing to show that you can do it in a lab,” he said. “But it’s another to show to show you can do it at a large scale.”

Elona has to be ready to make the insulin in large batches as soon as it gets federal approval to sell the drug, Zimmerman said. Approval could take eight to 18 months after federal regulators get all the data they need.

To prepare, the company will have to start hiring new employees this year, Zimmerman said.

“The type of employee we’ll first be hiring will have to create the quality systems in the new facility,” he said. “We’ll have to fill key positions, very high-up, who will guide how our manufacturing space takes shape.”

He had no estimate for how many positions would be filled or exactly when hiring would start.

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