6-17-2021 – Local company to make COVID-19 shots

Posted on: June 21st, 2021 by admin


June 17, 2021



By Guy Lucas guylucas@newstopicnews.com


Jun 17, 2021



A Lenoir pharmaceutical company is planning to begin production of COVID-19 vaccine soon, the company’s leader told a congressional committee this week.


Phanesh Koneru, founder and CEO of Exela Pharma Sciences, was among a number of executives speaking by video to the U.S. House Agriculture Subcommittee on Commodity, Exchanges, Energy and Credit about federal investments to help manufacturing in rural areas, and he cited his company’s ability to begin manufacturing COVID-19 as an example of the success that can be achieved.


“We are about two weeks away from manufacturing, commercial production of COVID-19 vaccine from our place,” Koneru said.


He said he could not yet publicly identify the company Exela is partnering with.


In April, Gov. Roy Cooper’s office announced Exela would receive a $500,000 grant from the N.C. Rural Infrastructure Authority to help renovate the former Broyhill Furniture trucking warehouse at 1170 West Ave. as part of expansion involving a new product line. Neither the governor’s office nor Exela, which produces generic and private label injectable products, provided details at that time about what the new product line would involve.


Exela, which makes a number of injectable drugs, was legally formed in 2005 but did not begin production until 2010, Koneru said. It has grown from a handful of employees operating in 20,000 square feet of space then to almost 400 employees in about 500,000 square feet of space now due to about $400 million in investment, including a substantial amount of U.S. Department of Agriculture loans, he said.


“We have invested and reinvested every dollar,” he said.


Koneru said that the nature of his business, and his company’s rapid growth, means there is not a track record of steady revenues that banks require for making loans.


“So we rely on USDA support and private lending,” he said, but private loans carry steep interest costs.


He said Congress should raise the allowable amount of USDA loans from the current $25 million to $50 million to $100 million.


“That would help fast-growing, small companies like ours that require a lot of infrastructure investments,” he said.


Koneru also recommended that USDA create a college and high-school scholarship program to encourage students to come back to or remain in a rural area after graduation. Such scholarship program could entail forgiving a portion of the graduate’s student loans in exchange for working in a rural area for at least five years after graduation.


In answer to a question from Rep. Chris Jacobs, R-N.Y., Koneru said he chose to begin Exela in a rural area partly because the Lenoir area’s affordability made sense for the limited funds that Exela had available in the beginning but also because of quality-of-life factors common to other rural areas, including the lack of city traffic, good air quality and a lower cost of living.


“There are many advantages that can be replicated in many small communities,” he said.


A rapidly growing pharmaceutical company in Lenoir announced another expansion Thursday that will bring new life to a long-vacant building downtown.

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