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At taxpayer-funded plant in Dunkirk, ImmunityBio lays off 38 workers, state notice discloses

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Athenex Dunkirk

California-based ImmunityBio Inc. has assumed the leasehold interest in the 409,000-square-foot Dunkirk facility, shown in August 2020. 

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ImmunityBio Inc. last week laid off some workers at its Dunkirk manufacturing facility, but the California-based biotechnology company declined to say how many were losing their jobs.

Now we know: ImmunityBio laid off 38 employees who work at the 3805 Lake Shore Drive E. plant, according to a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification, or WARN notice, filed with the state. 

The notice describes the reason for the layoffs as economic. It notes ImmunityBio placed the 38 employees on "inactive status," effective Sept. 29, and will be "terminating employment" of those workers on Dec. 28.

ImmunityBio in mid-February completed its $40 million acquisition of the leasehold interest in the 409,000-square-foot facility in Dunkirk that the state originally built for Buffalo-based Athenex Inc., a foundering biopharmaceutical company that is now flirting with being delisted from the Nasdaq stock exchange.

The state built the Dunkirk facility at a cost of $200 million and, in exchange, put major hiring and investment obligations on Athenex – responsibilities that have now been transferred to ImmunityBio.

ImmunityBio must hire 450 employees at the Dunkirk facility within the first five years of operations and also must spend $1.52 billion on operational expenses during the initial 10-year lease term, which started a year ago.

It's not off to the best start.

ImmunityBio, backed by billionaire biotech entrepreneur Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, originally expected to start producing its Covid-19 vaccine drug substance in Dunkirk by the end of 2022.

But the company said last week that it has determined the facility has construction needs that will take about 12 to 18 months to carry out. ImmunityBio said it needs fewer workers during the construction period.

"ImmunityBio remains committed to the Dunkirk, N.Y. area and the large-scale manufacturing facility," Chief Communications Officer Sarah Singleton said in the statement last week.

It's unclear how many workers are left at the Dunkirk facility. 

State records obtained by The Buffalo News showed the plant had about 72 full-time jobs as of Dec. 31, 2021, when Athenex still had the lease. When the deal closed in February, more than 50 Athenex employees joined ImmunityBio, which planned to hire more workers.

The state WARN Act requires companies to give early warning of closing and layoffs, but WARN notices do not need to be submitted to the Labor Department from businesses that employ fewer than 50 full-time employees. 

Jon Harris can be reached at 716-849-3482 or Follow him on Twitter at @ByJonHarris.

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I'm a Genesee County native and Syracuse University grad who covered business at the (Binghamton) Press & Sun-Bulletin and at The Morning Call in Allentown, Pennsylvania. I joined The Buffalo News in September 2021, covering the business of health care.

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