Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. building new COVID-19 sample collection manufacturing facility in Lenexa

Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. is building a new manufacturing facility in Lenexa to ramp up production of viral transport media, which is used for COVID-19 sample collection and transportation. Photo courtesy Thermo Fisher Scientific.

Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc., a biotechnology company with offices in Lenexa, is building a new facility in the city to ramp up manufacturing of products for COVID-19 sample collection and transportation.

Planning of the new $40 million manufacturing facility is underway, thanks to a contract the company received from the U.S. government last month to provide highly specialized viral transport media.

Located at 17000 W. 116th St, the new facility will have 120,000 square feet dedicated to production of viral transport media (VTM). These products are manufactured in an aseptic environment and inserted into protective tubes, which are used during collection of patient samples for proper transport to laboratories that can test for the presence of the virus, according to the company.

A sample view of Viral Transport Media, which protects the integrity of COVID-19 samples. Photo courtesy Thermo Fisher Scientific.

Bret Johnson, vice president of global operations for specialty diagnostics at Thermo Fisher, said this project is one part of the company’s efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We see ourselves as a critical part of really helping everything from producing diagnostic tests to providing personal protective equipment, modifying some of our existing sites and production lines to create components for whether it be ventilators or things like hand sanitizers,” Johnson said. “We have a very important, critical role.”

Thermo Fisher Scientific already produces viral transport media at its Lenexa site and has ramped up production from 50,000 to more than 1 million VTM-filled tubes per week. Once the new facility is complete sometime next month, the company will be able to scale up production to about 8 million VTM tubes per week. The new facility is also expected to bring more than 300 new full-time jobs.

The new facility is located at 17000 116th St., Lenexa.

“To build an entire factory in the course of eight weeks is a very, very difficult thing to do,” Johnson said. “What we’re trying to do is make that possible.”

The viral transport media is a critical part of the workflow in getting COVID-19 samples collected, transported and tested, Johnson added. Without the protection of viral transport media, COVID-19 virus samples could lose their integrity and become contaminated or lead to false negatives.

“This project itself is an incredible opportunity to respond to what really is a need for all of society,” he said. “When we looked at this project, we said this is an incredibly difficult project to do with a near-impossible timeline, but it’s really in the face of these impossible odds that, together, we choose the opportunity to do what is right.”

While the facility is built in response to the pandemic, Johnson added that the facility will be used for other purposes in the future, for collection and sampling productions for the flu and other viruses.