By Zuzanna Szymanska
BERLIN (Reuters) - Chemicals group Wacker Chemie has commissioned construction firm Exyte to build a plant for mRNA components, a medical technology first widely used in COVID-19 vaccines, in an investment of 100 million euros ($102.97 million).
Wacker said on Tuesday the German state would pay an annual fee to reserve about half of its capacity for its pandemic preparedness programme but declined to say if and how much the state had paid for the construction.
The rest of the capacity can serve customers developing other uses for the mRNA technology including cancer therapy once the plant is completed in July 2024, Exyte said.
The chemicals maker is one of five partners that signed deals with the German government, which has earmarked 2.861 billion euros to supply the country with vaccines in any future pandemic outbreaks through 2029.
The rest of the capacity can serve other customers once the plant is completed in July 2024, Exyte said.
"The mRNA technology is a real quantum leap that will revolutionize cancer therapy, for example," Exyte Chief Executive Wolfgang Buechele told Reuters in an interview.
"With mRNA, drugs go to the exact part of the body where they are supposed to work. Now, if you take an aspirin for a headache, most of the active substance has no effect at all because it reaches places where it is not needed," he said.
Exyte builds facilities for chipmakers, drugmakers and software companies using a patented rapid modular construction system, which allows it to halve the usual construction time.
It has been focusing on its semiconductor plant business because it is the most profitable - with prices in the four- rather than three-digit million range - but it plans to grow its pharmaceutical plant business as well, Buechele said.
"Medicine is undergoing fundamental changes," said Buechele, who was the CEO at world's largest industrial gases company Linde, from 2014 to 2016 before taking over as the boss of Exyte in 2017.
"This is why flexibility is more and more important when setting up production capacities," he said, adding the company aimed to double the share of drug plants in its revenue to 15% in 2027, with total sales amounting to 10 billion euros.
Exyte, whose customers include Infineon, Pfizer, Sanofi and IT giants from Silicon Valley, makes 7% of sales from drug factories, while semiconductor plants make up 87% and data centres about 4%, the CEO said.
($1 = 0.9712 euros)
(Reporting by Zuzanna Szymanska; Editing by Madeline Chambers and David Evans)