Layoffs Confirmed At Dunkirk’s ImmunityBio

ImmunityBio confirmed it has laid off employees tied to “construction needs” at its Dunkirk plant. Photo by Braden Carmen

DUNKIRK — Citing “construction needs” at what was described just years ago as a state-of-the-art facility, ImmunityBio confirmed there will be fewer workers at its Dunkirk plant for up to a year and a half.

However, at least two sources, one who said he was a worker, said the company laid off all but a handful of employees without prior notice after they were gathered Thursday.

News of the employee drawdown came following an “in-depth review” of the state-funded facility at 3805 Lake Shore Drive, the lease of which was acquired by ImmunityBio in February of this year from Athenex.

A spokeswoman for the California-based clinical-stage immunotherapy company said it was determined that the plant “has construction needs that may take approximately 12 to 18 months in order to enable the facility to be used as it has been intended.”

She added, in a statement to the OBSERVER, “For this reason, we will need fewer employees during the construction period. That said, we remain committed to the Dunkirk area and the large-scale manufacturing facility.”

An employee, who wished not to be identified, said they were gathered Thursday inside the plant’s cafeteria and informed the facility needed work that could last more than a year. The employee estimated that up to 40 were laid off in a variety of departments, including plant services, micro-biology and office workers. He also stated that employees were notified Thursday they could re-apply for their jobs after the upgrades were finished.

The ImmunityBio spokeswoman confirmed the employees who were laid off “may reapply for open positions as they become available.”

The $205 million plant was built specifically for the Buffalo-based Athenex, a drug development company. When asked about its construction needs, the spokeswoman said the plant is “not yet been operational in the manufacturing process.”

It was in February 2016 that then state Gov. Andrew Cuomo came to make the big announcement that was filled with fanfare and high hopes as 600 local students, area leaders and residents filled the city’s high school auditorium. At that time, residents were told there would be 450 employees working at the plant and another 450 jobs that were spun off from the project.

Robert Keem, then-general manager of the Athenex Pharma Solutions, touted the plant in June 2020. “It’s a really impressive facility,” Keem said at the time. “In my other roles, I’ve gotten to see a lot of facilities around the world. This one is state of the art.”

In March 2021, Athenex was hit with a major setback when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration denied its approval for a drug to treat metastatic breast cancer the company was developing. At the time, Athenex said it would work with regulators on the issues cited in a complete response letter from the FDA.


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