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Biotech project set for unveiling in Dunkirk

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Thursday will visit Dunkirk to formally unveil the state’s plans to spend $200 million to build a high-tech drug manufacturing center there for a Buffalo biotech company.

Cuomo will reveal details about the until-now closely guarded project, which will see the state construct a facility in the Town of Dunkirk for Athenex, a specialty cancer drug startup headquartered on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, sources familiar with the announcement confirmed to The Buffalo News.

The company is expected to create at least 500 jobs after moving into the facility. As news of the announcement came out Tuesday, local officials praised the state for its investment in an area that has suffered some serious economic setbacks in recent years.

“The bottom line is that it means more jobs and growth opportunities for Chautauqua County and the people in my district, and that’s what we need,” said State Sen. Catharine M. Young, R-Olean, citing the closure of two plants owned by ConAgra Foods that cost more than 400 jobs.

The governor’s state budget proposal in January included a $200 million line item for a project in Chautauqua County led by SUNY Polytechnic, which administers major economic-development projects in the region such as the SolarCity solar panel factory in South Buffalo. “This is the largest investment in the history of our county by the State of New York,” said Assemblyman Andrew W. Goodell, R-Jamestown.

The proposal contained few details about the project, and the Governor’s Office since January has consistently declined to comment on the project. However, The News previously confirmed that the money will go toward a drug manufacturing facility for Athenex, formerly Kinex Pharmaceuticals, long eyed as a potential biotech powerhouse for the region.

After raising small amounts of money from local investors, the company began to pursue an ambitious, international expansion strategy, fueled by tens of millions of dollars raised from investors in Asia. The company acquired or made licensing agreements with several small pharmaceutical companies, giving it access to market-ready drug ingredients and drug candidates, and it now has 325 employees in Buffalo, Newstead, New Jersey, Texas, Hong Kong, Taiwan and China.

In October, Athenex announced plans to build two drug manufacturing and distribution plants in China’s Chongqing province, and last year, it moved its headquarters from Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute to the nearby Conventus building on the Medical Campus.

The state is expected to own the facility, with Athenex responsible for hiring.

The project is a new-build facility that will be constructed on a site made up of two parcels on the section of Route 5 in the Town of Dunkirk, just east of the Dunkirk city line, known as Lake Shore Drive East, sources said.

The two parcels total more than 30 acres, sources said. One of the sections is owned by Muldowney Development, whose president, Kevin J. Muldowney, of Dunkirk, is a Republican member of the Chautauqua County Legislature and a community liaison in Young’s office. Muldowney did not return a message seeking comment.

The Governor’s Office is relying on local officials and members of the business community to boost attendance for Thursday’s event, which is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. in the Dunkirk High School auditorium.

On Tuesday, the Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce and Manufacturers Association of the Southern Tier, at the request of Cuomo’s staff, emailed invitations to the event to its 1,000 members.

“We’re excited to have the governor visiting the community. We anticipate he’s going to be delivering some good news regarding manufacturing jobs in the region,” said Todd J. Tranum, president and CEO of the Chamber and executive director of the association.

email: swatson@buffnews.com and tprecious@buffnews.com