Dunkirk retreat: ImmunityBio, aiming to hire 300 in 30 months, lays off staff at new facility

ImmunityBio’s push to hire 300 people at its New York facility in 30 months has made a bad start. Rather than add to its head count, Patrick Soon-Shiong’s biotech has outlined plans to lay off 38 people by the end of the year.

California-based ImmunityBio took over the Dunkirk site earlier this year, paying the struggling Athenex $40 million in return for the leasehold interest. The oncology and infectious disease biotech committed to spending $1.5 billion on operational expenses over the initial 10-year term, as well as to hiring 300 people within 30 months. The longer-term hiring goal is to take on 450 employees within the first five years.

Yet, ImmunityBio has begun its time at the plant by putting 38 employees on “inactive status” ahead of the planned termination of their employment near to the end of the year. The biotech listed “economic” as the reason for the action and 38 as the number of total employees. The site reportedly employed 50 people before ImmunityBio took over.

ImmunityBio made the deep cuts after identifying issues that will limit its staffing needs. A spokesperson for the company told the Observer that the site “has construction needs that may take approximately 12 to 18 months in order to enable the facility to be used as it has been intended.” ImmunityBio will need fewer employees while the construction work happens. 

The identification of construction needs follows the addition of facility build-out as risk in ImmunityBio’s financial regulatory disclosures. Starting in the first quarter, the biotech warned build-outs “are complex and specialized and will involve substantial capital expenditure, and it could take longer and cost more than currently expected.” The government is funding “a small portion” of the work at Dunkirk.

ImmunityBio secured government support as part of agreements that saw it commit to increasing its head count at the facility. The biotech told investors that the failure to fulfill its obligations could lead to termination of the lease agreement and “potential recoupment of a percentage of the grant funding.”