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White House to award $52.9 million grant to Va. Biotech authority

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The Richmond skyline as seen from Oregon Hill.

Good weather this weekend for beachgoers from Corolla to Myrtle Beach

The Richmond region has won a $52.9 million federal grant to create a hub for research and advanced manufacturing of essential medicines and pharmaceutical ingredients.

The White House announced the grant to the Virginia Biotechnology Research Partnership Authority on Friday. It is among 21 projects that will receive grants from the Build Back Better Regional Challenge, using a $1 billion fund created under the American Rescue Plan Act to generate economic opportunities in disadvantaged communities that need them.

Virginia sets a sweeping partnership for hard-pressed Petersburg

The grant will support six projects in the proposed Advanced Manufacturing Pharmaceutical Cluster, an initiative aimed at bringing new manufacturing opportunities to Petersburg, supporting research at the Virginia Bio + Tech Park in Richmond and boosting work by the Medicines for All Institute at Virginia Commonwealth University to build a national supply of essential medicines.

“The Advanced Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Cluster will generate a major boost to an emerging, regional industry of critical importance to American global competitiveness,” U.S. Secretary of Commerce and Trade Gina Raimondo said in an announcement of the grant.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., was a member of Richmond City Council when it created the biotechnology park 30 years ago.

“This award is evidence that Virginia is leading the way in prescription drug manufacturing, helping make us less dependent on foreign manufacturers,” Kaine said.

“I’m excited that the Virginia Biotechnology Research Partnership Authority is receiving federal funding to expand their work, develop critical infrastructure, and help Virginians access high-quality jobs. By making more medications here in Virginia, we can lower prescription drug costs for Americans."

Kaine and Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., helped shape and pass the American Rescue Plan Act almost 18 months ago, and pushed the U.S. Department of Commerce to approve the grant.

“This support will continue to strengthen the foundation and accelerate the growth of pharmaceutical manufacturing in the United States,” Warner said. “As a proud supporter of the American Rescue Plan, I am glad to see that Virginia continues to reap the benefits through job creation and economic growth.”

Rep. Donald McEachin, D-4th, also celebrated the grant as a "historic win" that will boost economic opportunities in his congressional district.

“I am thrilled that this major pharmaceutical cluster in my district will receive robust federal funding, thanks to the American Rescue Plan,” said McEachin, who also had advocated for the authority in the application process. "Today’s announcement is incredibly welcomed news, as this funding will spur continued economic development and growth in my district.”

VCU is reducing the cost to make COVID medications. But the funding expires this year.

A regional coalition had sought up to $100 million for the pharmaceutical initiative. It already had received a $500,000 federal planning grant as one of 60 finalists — out of 529 applicants — in the regional challenge.

The coalition includes:

  • Activation Capital, its fiduciary agent and a supporter of technology, biotechnology and entrepreneurial businesses in the Richmond area;
  • AMPAC Fine Chemicals, a pharmaceutical manufacturer in Petersburg;
  • the cities of Petersburg and Richmond;
  • Civica Inc., a nonprofit organization that supplies critical generic drugs to health care providers;
  • the Community College Workforce Alliance;
  • the Greater Richmond Partnership and the Virginia Economic Development Partnership;
  • the Medicines for All Institute at VCU;
  • Phlow Corp., a Richmond pharmaceutical company that received a $354 million federal contract two years ago to build a national reserve of essential medicines and manufacture active ingredients for more than a dozen medicines used to treat patients with COVID-19;
  • Virginia’s Gateway Region; and
  • Virginia State University.

The initiative includes six programs to: develop water and sewer systems to serve the new manufacturing operations; expand laboratory space at the Bio-Tech Park; build a pilot facility to accelerate research and laboratory achievements; create a technicians certificate program for community college training in advanced pharmaceutical manufacturing; develop joint degree and research programs at VCU and Virginia State; and recruit new supplies for a supply chain to support the pharmaceutical cluster.

AMPAC is expanding its manufacturing plant on Normandy Drive in Petersburg. It has a partnership with Phlow, which also plans to open a production site next to the plant.

Civica, formed by various U.S. health care providers to address chronic shortages of generic drugs, is spending $124.5 million to establish its first in-house pharmaceutical manufacturing plant across from the AMPAC plant in Petersburg.

The initiative already is getting help from the new Virginia budget, which includes $15 million in state funds for the project and almost $30 million in American Rescue Plan funds for water and wastewater improvements to support the manufacturing cluster.

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