By Michelle Price
Special to the UCBJ
COOKEVILLE – While COVID-19 has caused many companies to furlough workers, Cookeville-based Aphena Pharma Solutions has forged ahead in the healthcare services industry.
Before COVID-19 hit, Aphena was already in major growth mode. The impact of the pandemic on the demand for pharmaceuticals has only increased that growth, and company leaders were ready to adapt to the needs with facility expansion and new hires.
According to Aphena CEO Shawn Reilley, Aphena grew 17% last year and is on track for 24% growth in 2020. The company has grown to employ over 460, hiring almost 100 within the last year.
While the healthcare industry was already quite active, fears of COVID-19 have caused a marked increase in demand for pharmaceutical prescriptions, over-the-counter (OTC) medicines and nutritional products.
“Due to heavy consumer buying early in this pandemic, OTC manufacturers have been scrambling to get products back on the shelves while the pharmaceutical companies are working hard with the FDA to fast track key products for COVID-19,” said Eric Allen, EVP of sales and marketing. “Aphena has been running several key products since February to help efforts to fight the pandemic.”
Aphena has facilities both locally and in Easton, Maryland, with its corporate headquarters located in Cookeville. The three Tennessee facilities focus on the solid-dose markets, while the Maryland facilities focus on the liquid and topical based products.
“Aphena’s growth for the last few years has been in the prescription drug, biologics and OTC nutritional markets,” said Allen. “However, our medical device and wound care business also jump started with COVID-19, which continues to strengthen Aphena’s business foundation.”
Aphena is in a massive hiring phase due to growth, recent demand spike and long-term agreements with customers.
“It’s a real challenge, thus the need for skilled, motivated, passionate, competitive people who want to become part of an exciting company with an exciting future,” said Reilley. “We are advertising everywhere we can to get a skilled, professional workforce for our 24-hour-a-day, six-day-a-week operation. We have specific needs for maintenance personnel, engineering staff and plant supervisors who have experience working across multiple shifts and running manufacturing lines.”
Aphena is in an exciting growth mode. The company has had the same investors for years, and in the last 12 months, those investors have pumped $15 million into the company for growth initiatives.
Early last year, Aphena’s two Tennessee facilities were nearing capacity, so they leased another 50,000-square-foot building in Algood. That addition is now operating at capacity, and the company is looking at possibly needing additional room for growth in the near future.
“Unlike some industries where growth demands plant expansions, the pharmaceutical industry requires companies to build capacity first and then to sell it,” explained Allen. “So Aphena’s strategy was to expand the Tennessee solid-dose division first in 2019, since that’s the larger market, then to expand the Maryland liquids division in 2020.”
The Maryland expansion centers around the need to grow capacity for the liquids division. Aphena recently purchased two additional buildings adjacent to their current manufacturing facility in Easton, creating a 26-acre pharmaceutical campus with 184,000 square feet of operational space.
Minor building renovations and the installation of new equipment have already begun in Maryland, with an estimated completion date of October 2020. Aphena currently employs 150 full-time workers there and plans to add an additional 100 jobs at this location over the next two years. The acquisition of the property plus the planned renovations represent a $12.5 million investment by Aphena in the Easton facility over the past 12 months.
“This new campus will allow Aphena to establish new long-term pharmaceutical partnerships, which will continue to make the Aphena brand a strong competitor in the market space,” said Allen.
Continuing to support the 2019 Tennessee expansion, Aphena recently announced the purchase of three new, state-of-the-art, high-speed, solid-dose bottling lines. One of these lines is now available for new business at Aphena’s Cookeville facility. The other two lines will be installed by October 2020.
The new available line will be dedicated to packaging solid-dose OTC products, both in the branded and private-label categories. This line will create additional capacity in the range of 12 to 16 million bottles annually.
“We are installing these new lines for growth capacity to stay ahead of our current and future customers’ needs,” said Reilley. “It will allow Aphena to maintain a 50% capacity level for any new or surge project requirements.”
Aphena is supporting the COVID-19 supply network. The company is on both the Tennessee and Maryland lists of critical supply chain companies.
They are working with the federal government and key pharmaceutical companies to support the needs they have with different types of products being tested, as well as with their current supply chain within the prescription and injectable markets for those types of products.
“The pandemic has woken up the United States (U.S.) healthcare and pharmaceutical marketspace,” said Allen. “The healthcare space has always outsourced a lot of the raw materials or finished drug products to different parts of the world. This awareness will drive raw material and drug manufacturing back to the U.S., creating jobs and new opportunities in the U.S. market for years to come.”
“Aphena has not been approached about moving products back into the U.S.,” said Reilley. “In the pharmaceutical space, it takes anywhere from six months to two years to move a product, which is why Aphena is now building infrastructure and hiring top-rated people to support this future demand.”
For more information about Aphena, visit www.AphenaPharma.com or call 1-866-465-4506.