Pharma company UCB amid $47.5 million expansion in Smyrna

·3 min read

May 20—Belgium-based UCB, a multinational biopharmaceutical company, is in the midst of a $47.5-million expansion of its 47-acre North American headquarters in Smyrna. The expansion of its campus will add 60,000 square feet and bring its Smyrna workforce from 425 employees to more than 500. The current phase, which broke ground last year, is scheduled to open in late fall.

UCB's Patty Fritz, vice president of U.S. Corporate Affairs, sat down with the MDJ to talk UCB's progress, how the pandemic has changed the workplace and the company's goals for the future.

The Smyrna campus does not include UCB's research and development functions, but does house divisions that support research, such as communications, legal, regulatory, IT, marketing and sales. Fritz herself oversees public policy, government affairs, advocacy, communications and public affairs.

The Atlanta area was chosen because of its growing healthcare, health technology and life sciences sectors, Fritz said. It's also, of course, home to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Area universities also provide a solid talent pipeline.

The North American headquarters has been in Smyrna since 1995. Plans for expansion began seven or eight years ago and are focused on converting a warehouse into offices, though existing buildings are also being renovated.

UCB felt the need to expand to accommodate future growth, and its new offices are being designed according to the company's "inspace" work model.

"Really, what we've done is we've taken a warehouse, and we're transforming that warehouse into collaborative workspace for employees," Fritz said.

The inspace model is an open work environment which features "natural building materials," sustainable features, shared spaces as well as areas for quiet concentration. The hope is that the new model increases employee wellness while reducing environmental impact.

If you think of a normal, closed-offices-and-cubicles office, then inspace "would be kind of the opposite of that," Fritz said.

"We have much more open space, but if you need to have a pod for a quiet conversation or just thinking time, that's available too."

The pandemic has changed not just UCB's work model, but how they serve patients. UCB had to quickly figure out how patients who rely on their medications access them amid the economic turmoil.

"In some cases ... because their needs are different, they need more information, they're not able to see their physician," Fritz said. "They're not sure about how to get their medication, some people were losing their jobs, and so their coverage was disrupted ... We needed to streamline the way for them to ask for help from us, we took all of that into account."

UCB's core expertise is immunology and neurology. Going forward, Fritz said they have products in development to treat psoriasis, lupus and epilepsy. Much of their research targets rare, severe diseases.

UCB hopes to move toward, "not just treating symptoms, but, truly being able to modify disease, slow progression of disease, and hopefully, in the not too distant future, have gene therapies that are curative therapies for these patients," Fritz said.