Editor’s Note: This content was originally created by our team for the City of Vista.
Like many of his colleagues, life science executive Dan Dernbach has an affinity for being a part of potentially life-changing therapies – whether it’s a genetic disorder or a pandemic-type disease.
As Vice President of Operations for Azzur Group Cleanrooms on Demand™, Dernbach is helping lead the charge for the company’s new Vista facility – its first on the West Coast – which is expected to help meet the growing demand for such spaces, especially among biotech startups.
The Vista location will help accelerate the speed to the clinic for Azzur Cleanrooms on Demand’s partners and clients – and more importantly, for patients who are in need of critical therapies.
“As a company, we are contributing to an improved quality of life and the likelihood of a successful outcome for patients. It makes you strive harder every day to keep pushing forward,” Dernbach said.
Below, Dernbach delves into Azzur Cleanrooms on Demand’s growth, why Vista is an ideal location for the life sciences sector, and his drive to go to work every day (and we’re not talking about the commute).
Clean Room Chronicles: While Azzur Group is just settling in Vista, the company has been in business since 2010, with a consulting group, a laboratory group, and a technical services group. The Cleanrooms On Demand operation started about three years ago in Boston, Mass., and is expanding into California with plans for more facilities through the US.
For patients who are in need of critical therapies, the role of clean rooms have become crucial in speed to market. For life science startups, lack of manufacturing infrastructure and compliance expertise can be a major hurdle, making companies such as Azzur Cleanrooms on Demand™ even more critical for bringing therapies to the market.
“The demand for these types of facilities is skyrocketing,” Dernbach said. “There are many critical therapies in the pipeline right now. Consequently, organizations that support them, whether it’s contract manufacturers or construction contractors for companies building their own spaces, are incredibly backed up. It can be one to two years or more to get a product into manufacturing using traditional facilities. By contrast, with Azzur Cleanrooms on Demand™, a company can be producing batches for clinical trials in three months or less.”
The new Vista facility will serve as a clinical space for Azzur Cleanrooms on Demand™ clients to perform different aspects of the biopharmaceutical industry such as pharmaceutical development, work on medical diagnostics, and compounding pharmacies. The facility will be mainly used by clients to produce pharmaceutical batches as they go into clinical trials.
“We are also adding Azzur Labs to support the testing needs for our facility and our clients, as well as the Southern California market in general. Then, wrapped around our Cleanrooms on Demand and Azzur Labs offering are the consulting services provided by our parent company, Azzur Group,” Dernbach said.
Jobs: The current footprint of the Vista Cleanrooms on Demand facility is approximately 30,000 square feet, with plans to expand to nearly 50,000 square feet. The company’s employee headcount is slated to be somewhere between 20 and 25 to support the first phase of the operations, and that will expand as Azzur’s footprint in the building expands.
“It’s important to recognize that it is not Azzur alone that will bring jobs to the table through our Cleanrooms on Demand facility,” Dernbach said. “Our partners and our clients all need technicians and scientists for their operations in our space. And in most cases, these will be new jobs to support expanded development and manufacturing operations in our space.”
Biotech Beach: Vista was a logical choice for Azzur Cleanrooms on Demand™ because it sits in the center between two big biotech areas – San Diego and Carlsbad – and is within reach of the LA/Orange County market, Dernbach said.
“The Southern California biotech industry fits well with our mission of accelerating the pathway from discovery to development to the clinic for our pharma customers. We want our sites to be a tool for fast-growing companies. We want to be a partner for them as they bring critical therapies to market, and we believe our facilities and services can help our customers accelerate the process. Vista is also accessible to all of our current West Coast markets, and is near airports for companies with headquarters located elsewhere.”
Biotech Meets Breweries: Azzur Cleanrooms on Demand™ is located in the new Keystone Innovation Industrial Park, which also houses two popular breweries and other creative/innovative companies.
“We were very happy with the new space created there. The new buildings gave us a perfect shell space to develop according to our needs, in terms of layout and structure,” Dernbach said. “The property owner has also been a very good partner, accommodating our needs, making investments where necessary and giving us the freedom and latitude to operate our business the way we need to.”
“And let’s not underestimate the value of the breweries,” he added. “It doesn’t go unnoticed by prospective clients that there are state-of-the-art cleanroom facilities with a brewery right next door. We joke that we extended our Wi-Fi coverage to the brewery patios in case clients need overflow conference room space.”
Vista: The fact that the City of Vista has invested in attracting life science and pharma businesses was another draw for Azzur Cleanrooms on Demand™.
“Vista is making a committed effort to invest in technology companies and to attract them to the city – and to develop the entire city as a whole,” Dernbach said. “From the time I moved to San Diego, Vista has transformed from a sleepy suburban small town into a vital place with a developing downtown area. And now they’re bringing in technology companies in the bioscience and biopharma sectors, which will greatly expand the opportunities for people to live and work in the area.”
Vista’s life sciences community has been on a growth trajectory over the past few years, with companies such as Leica Biosystems, Cue Health, and Exagen Inc., as well as a successful biotech incubator. In an effort to further fuel this sector, the City’s Economic Development Strategy includes targeted industry clusters such as medical devices and biopharmaceuticals.
“Life science companies are big drivers of the economy and create good-paying jobs for our residents,” said Vista Mayor Judy Ritter. “By creating a welcoming environment for this critical sector to thrive, we can help expand Southern California’s robust biotech corridor while fueling promising science for our community and beyond.”
Accommodating Climate: “Despite COVID-19, Vista has been very open to what we do. We are a unique type of business, so there wasn’t a blueprint per se for how to approach our site. And the city has been a good partner for developing the regulatory climate that we need, and to promote our business,” Dernbach said. “Vista’s Deputy Mayor Joe Green even participated in our grand opening celebration. They’ve been very transparent with us.”
On the Frontlines: Azzur has been at the forefront during the pandemic, and the emerging healthcare and life science innovation cycle in general, with multiple clients in the company’s facilities with some sort of COVID program, whether it’s a diagnostic development platform, a vaccine, or a therapeutic platform.
“We’ve had direct involvement in the response to COVID-19. Operation Warp Speed was really where our type of facility has come into play. Pharmaceutical developers can start in our Cleanrooms on Demand facilities and, in a very short time, be conducting research and
development activities on critical therapies that can be rapidly accelerated through the pipeline,” Dernbach said. “That’s true not only for COVID-19, but for other conditions as well. We have companies working on cancer therapies and rare disease therapies – a really a broad spectrum of pharmaceutical development. Azzur works with those companies from discovery to delivery, whether through our consultant services, lab services, training, or cleanroom services.”
“We have a lot of cell and gene therapy customers, and those therapeutic pathways demand an accelerated timeline into the clinic. The trend we’re seeing is a demand for more therapies.”
Startup Scene: There’s a tremendous amount of startup activity in the pharmaceutical industry, and many of those small companies have at least a few drugs in the pipeline that need to progress as quickly as possible, Dernbach said.
“Our Cleanrooms on Demand works with startup companies to move forward more quickly with their therapies, while still controlling their intellectual property, managing their costs and to control the progression of their therapeutics in the development pipeline. We celebrate that.”
Future Footprint: Looking ahead, Azzur Cleanrooms on Demand™ is targeting multiple biotech and biopharma markets throughout the US.
“We have several additional facilities being completed, and we intend to open a handful of new facilities by the end of 2022 within California and various other locales across the US.”
Purpose-Driven: Besides a big appreciation for science, helping bring important therapies to patients is the main drive behind Dernbach’s job.
“On a personal level, over my career, Azzur Group has worked on many things that my family and people I know have actually taken advantage of. That really adds to the meaningfulness of what you do every day.
It’s easy to just go into work and think, ‘I’m making a product and I’m running a facility.’ But when you see the direct effect your work has on your personal life and the lives of people around you, it pushes you to succeed.”
“It feels wonderful,” he added.” It’s really great to go to work every day and know that what we, our clients and our partners are doing is advancing science and critical therapies, in the hopes that some horrendous diseases can be cured or treated effectively.”