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VACAVILLE -- Biotechnology giant Genentech is pulling back the wraps on a planned $135 million expansion of its Solano County facility, including 200-plus more employees there.

It's part of a $285 million growth project over the next four years at its pharmaceutical manufacturing plants in Vacaville and in Oceanside. About 250 jobs will be added in total.

The investment at the 1000 New Horizon Way facility in Vacaville will be in the company's second cell culture plant, called CCP2, which was closed in 2010.

"Despite the closure of this plant for the past three years, most of the existing equipment is still in very good condition and was preserved so that it would not deteriorate over time," said Jon Reed, vice president and general manager for manufacturing operations.

Some older equipment will have to be replaced, automated devices added, and some minor internal construction modifications must be made before CCP2 can be up and running, he said.

Mr. Reed will be a key presenter at the Nov. 8 Impact Solano conference. He plans to provide details about the expansion and what this will mean for Solano County and Bay Area biotech.[poll id="93"]Operational in June

The 200-plus new Solano positions will increase total employment at the 956,000-square-foot plant from 700 technicians, scientists and engineers to more than 900.

The expansion schedule anticipates test batches of drugs to be produced in the refurbished CCP2 by June 2014, with product lots ready for commercial use about a year later, according to the company. The CCP2 plant has a 200,000-liter cell-fermentation capacity.

It was built in 2007 and decommissioned three years later without producing drugs. The closure was due in large part to parent company Roche Group concerns that competitive attempts to produce similar versions of Genentech's brand-name products would erode the firm's market share and reduce demand for its products -- a threat that failed to materialize.

When CCP2 is back in operation, it will be used to produce arthritis medication Rituxan.

Increasing demand for Genentech products prompted the decision to expand in Vacaville, according to Chief Executive Officer Ian Clark.

"It will allow us to ensure a continuous and reliable supply of our existing medicines on the market, and expands our ability to deliver through our industry-leading pipeline," he said.

The primary cell culture plant in Vacaville, called CCP1, has produced various components for the drugs Avastin, used to treat colon cancer, and Herceptin, a targeted therapy for HER2-positive metastatic breast cancer and HER2-positive gastric cancer, as well as Rituxan, asthma treatment Xolair and Perjeta, another treatment for HER2-postitive metastatic breast cancer.

After production, these drug components are sent to either a plant in Hillsboro, Ore., or a Roche facility near Basel, Switzerland, for packaging in vials or syringes.

It takes eight to 10 years to bring a new drug molecule from research to commercial use at a total investment cost of $3 billion to $5 billion, according to Mr. Reed.

"What we do changes peoples lives for the better," he said. "All of Genentech's products are unique. We're always looking to develop solutions for unmet medical needs -- the tough stuff that no one else is doing. That's why our pharmaceuticals are in such demand. Our Vacaville operations are a major part of this ongoing process."Largest in the world

When fully operational, Genentech's combined cell culture plants in Vacaville is said to be part of the largest single-location biotech drug manufacturing complex in the world, producing more than half of Roche's global output of biologic direct substance products.

The largest of the three major U.S. bioscience business clusters, or hubs, is in the North Bay. The other two are in the San Diego and Boston areas.

Genentech, founded in 1976 with more than 12,500 employees today, has been awarded some 10,500 patents -- with 7,000 more pending. The company has 35 branded products on the market with 25 more in development.

Roche Group focuses on development of innovative cancer drugs. Roche operates six cell culture plants around the world. In the group are Roche Pharma, Genentech and Chugai Pharmaceutical and its U.S. subsidiary, Chugai Pharma USA.

Genentech's Solano expansion is good news, according to Sandy Person, president of Solano Economic Development Corporation.

"It represents not only new growth within our life sciences business cluster, but [also] a very dramatic boost to our local economy," she said.

The Impact Solano conference, co-hosted by the Business Journal and Travis Credit Union, is set to be held from 7:30--10 a.m. at Hilton Garden Inn in Fairfield.