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Spokane-based biotech startup building drug factory on the West Plains

Selkirk Pharma will make injectable drugs like vaccines for contract clients, hire up to 300 workers.

SPOKANE, Wash. — Spokane's West Plains have yet another technology company setting up shop: Selkirk Pharma.

The biotech startup was founded mostly by Spokane natives.

"Most of us are raised here, we have our families here currently, and when we were thinking about where to build this facility, this was home," said CEO Pat Haffey.

Selkirk will manufacture injectable drugs, which can be anything from vaccines to chemotherapy. With the pandemic, and the need for COVID vaccine, demand for facilities like the factory Selkirk is building near the airport is skyrocketing.

"But there's also a lot of other products that need to keep being made," said Haffey. "We need to keep investing in Alzheimer's research, in cancer research. These I things that I think we're going to address or cure in our lifetimes. So the manufacturing capacity needs to be there."

The company will be a contractor, manufacturing for clients that could range widely in size and product.

"One of my favorite things about working contract manufacturing... is one day you're working with a top ten pharma company, and the next day you're working with just a really dedicated team from basically a startup biotech company on a really exciting product," said Haffey.

But there will be one constant with every product: it needs to be carefully made in a sterile environment.

"You're injecting a product into a person's muscle or vein or even an organ, so if there is any kind of contaminant in that product, you're going to make somebody very very sick," said Haffey.

That's why Selkirk requires a highly specialized facility, one they broke ground on last September and expect will be under construction until next May.

It will have extensive security and sanitation protocols.

"First thing is... there are turnstiles, a secure entrance. And then from that there is a series of gowning procedures. You have building-dedicated shoes that never leave basically the manufacturing area," Haffey said.

At the heart of the facility is three secure rooms, where everything from staff to materials to airflow to the vibrations of the floor is carefully controlled.

"That's where the sterile processing happens. So all of this is to support that little footprint right there," said Haffey.

Right now, Selkirk has only a couple dozen employees. But when they get to full capacity in a few years, there will be many more.

"It takes about a hundred employees per manufacturing line," said Haffey. "So once we get to full utilization of the factory, we're at around 300 employees."

The facility will employ a variety of experts, from chemists to engineers to mechanics. Haffey says hiring locally is a goal of his.

"This is really high-tech, sophisticated manufacturing, but it's manufacturing," he said. "So we need that smart but very blue-collar workforce. People that want to be on their feet all day long. People that want to make stuff. And I think that's Spokane."

The plant is being built by Spokane-based Bouten Construction. And Haffey says no matter how good Selkirk does on the business end, their mission is to be an important part of Spokane and its growth.

"If there is not a community impact, if there is not something of a ripple effect or an engagement in the community, I think this was a miss," he said.