DURHAM – Drug giant Pfizer on Wednesday cut the ribbon on a new manufacturing facility in Durham that will focus on gene therapy treatments for various illnesses.

The $68.5 million, 85,500-square-foot plant near the intersection of Interstate 40 and Interstate 540 will be home to Pfizer’s BioTherapeutics Pharmaceutical Sciences group. More than 50 jobs will be created, said BethAnne Bort, the site lead and analytical research and development director, and another 40 will move from a Pfizer site in Chapel Hill.

“This new facility delivers and provides our team with expanded capabilities and space to pioneer breakthroughs for our patients,” Bort said.

Gene therapy is a form of medicine that involves delivering genes to targeted tissues in the body to produce missing or non-functioning proteins. Bort said that, by using genes as medicine, the underlying cause of a disease can be targeted at the cellular level, potentially with just one treatment.

“Gene therapy represents the next wave of innovation for patients living with rare diseases, for whom there are limited treatment options currently available,” Paul Mensah, vice president of BioTherapeutics Pharmaceutical Sciences, said in a statement. “[The Durham plant] represents the next step in strengthening Pfizer’s in-house gene therapy capabilities and underscores the unique ability, expertise and resources we have to guide gene therapy through the entire development and manufacturing process and deliver this potentially life-changing technology to patients.”

Pfizer’s current gene therapy portfolio includes three late-stage clinical programs for hemophilia A, hemophilia B and Duchenne muscular dystrophy, as well as 12 pre-clinical programs investigating potential treatments for rare cardiology, endocrine, hematology, metabolic and neurology diseases. One or two clinical studies on those treatments are expected to start each year.

Pfizer already has a major plant in Sanford that makes and tests various vaccines and gene therapy treatments.

From a diverse pool of talent to the presence of research universities, state leaders say the Triangle is the ideal place for biotech companies to set up shop.

“Since 2017, gene therapy companies have invested more than $1 billion in North Carolina,” state Commerce Secretary Machelle Sanders said.

Bill Bullock, senior vice president of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, said the state has added more than 12,000 life science jobs in the last three years, and the momentum doesn’t appear to be slowing down.

“There are still dozens of companies actively looking at North Carolina – all across the spectrum, from research and development to diagnostics to medical testing to manufacturing,” Bullock said. “It’s a growth industry, and it’s here to stay.”