Alex Philippidis Senior News Editor Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News

Novo Nordisk buys, retools NH plant for hemophilia API; ProBioGen sees double.

Biopharma job growth in Massachusetts resumed over the past year after a flat year. But growth remains small, with the Bay State seeing 1,200 more industry jobs—a 2.1% increase—compared with a year earlier, according to the latest annual Industry Snapshot report released by the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council (MassBio).

Most of the new jobs were created by big biopharma, which is increasingly concentrating R&D and other operations in the Boston/Cambridge, MA, region by shifting functions from other parts of the U.S.

The state’s two biggest job gainers over the past year were Biogen Idec and contract research organization PAREXEL International. The report cited an 800-job increase for PAREXEL, to 2,800 employees, the same number listed for Biogen Idec following a reported 500-job increase.

Biogen Idec grew by even more than that, with 3,000 employees based in Massachusetts as of September 1, company spokeswoman Meggan Whiteman told GEN.

“In terms of factors to explain the increase, there’s no one single reason—our hiring has been across the board, across all functions and departments, to support Biogen Idec’s business strategy and necessary infrastructure,” Whiteman said.

PAREXEL now has more than 2,900 Massachusetts employees, a company spokesperson told GEN: “As a result of a successful year driving more business, there has been a strong need to increase hiring and add depth to the management team at PAREXEL’s corporate headquarters in Waltham, as well as internationally.”

Representatives of the top two job losers did not respond to a GEN email seeking to verify the Snapshot’s figures: EMD Millipore was said to have shed 495 jobs, falling to 1,261; while Genzyme reportedly shrunk to 4,356 jobs, down 244 from a year earlier.

This year’s Snapshot contrasts with last year’s, when the state added just 365 jobs (0.007%) from 2011. Over the past year, the state has seen either new jobs, or the promise of future jobs, from several biotech and pharma giants:

  • Biogen Idec last year completed its headquarters relocation to Cambridge. The company halted earlier plans to leave suburban Weston, MA, since it needed the space for its growing workforce following the successful launch of MS drug Tecfidera.
  • Novartis grew its R&D presence in Cambridge, shifting oncology research jobs from Emeryville, CA, and closing its respiratory R&D site in Horsham, West Sussex, U.K., in a companywide restructuring.
  • Pfizer opened an R&D facility in Cambridge in June, where it consolidated 1,000 staffers previously based at three locations.
  • Vertex opened a new $850 million, 1.1 million-square-foot headquarters in February at Fan Pier on the South Boston waterfront, bringing 1,300 employees into one space from several Cambridge sites.

Next spring, GE Healthcare plans to open a new U.S. headquarters in a new $21 million, 160,000 square-foot office-lab facility in Marlborough, where the company already employs 77 people. The facility, which will replace a Piscataway, NJ, site, will be a base for more than 500 employees—including the 77, plus 220 jobs new to the state. The site is set to open in the spring.

GE Healthcare is seeking a $124,500.78 reduction on city property taxes over 10 years, and is also expected to pursue a Life Science Investment Tax Credit from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, the quasi-public agency that oversees the commonwealth’s 10-year, $1 billion Life Sciences Initiative.

“We have grown during a period of decline by others because we have a vibrant startup culture here. We have large companies to partner with. We have these very vital academic research centers that are all in close proximity, and we also had a particular focus on the development of biologic products,” Peter Abair, MassBio’s director of economic development and global affairs, told GEN.

But the state’s startup culture faces the same challenge as the nation – uncertain availability of seed-stage financing for startups. While Massachusetts drew 33.4% of the nation’s seed-stage funding between 2009 and 2013, according to PwC MoneyTree data, that funding has fallen from more than $250 million in both 2008 and 2009 to $50 million in 2012 and about $150 million last year.

Massachusetts hopes for at least $200 million this year to sustain its five-year average of $152.4 million, Abair said.

“One of the reasons the large companies are here is because the small companies are here,” Abair observed. “If seed stage funding follows national trends, here as well and starts to evaporate, it’s going to impact the ability of companies to start here and grow here.”

25 REHIRED: Novo Nordisk Retools Ex-Olympus Plant

After acquiring the former Olympus Biotech plant in Lebanon, NH, for an undisclosed price, Novo Nordisk has rehired 25 of the plant’s former workers—and may rehire more—as it repositions the facility for producing active pharmaceutical ingredients for hemophilia drugs.

Novo Nordisk bought the plant from Olympus Biotech, which idled all 127 plant employees after announcing plans in June to shut down the site. Olympus shuttered its U.S. biotech division—closing down the plant as well as back-offices in Wilder, NH, and Hopkinton, MA, in what the company said was a cost-cutting move.

It’s “too early to say” when the plant will resume operation, or how many former Olympus staffers will ultimately be rehired, Novo Nordisk spokesman Ken Inchausti told GEN.

The Lebanon plant was opened in 1989 by Stryker Biotech, and acquired by Olympus in 2010, when the Japanese tech giant acquired assets related to Stryker’s bone morphogenetic protein Osteogenic Protein-1 (OP-1), designed to regenerate bones for treating spinal, hip, and knee conditions.

Olympus envisioned OP-1 at the center of a U.S. biotech unit that would specialize in regenerative medicine and finally deliver on the protein’s promise following numerous setbacks. While Stryker won FDA humanitarian-exemption approval for OP-1 in 2004, it failed to win full FDA approval. Worse, Stryker paid $15 million to settle federal charges it promoted OP-1 for off-label uses.

“Pursue leadership in hemophilia” was among priorities Novo Nordisk articulated in its 2013 Annual Report. In April, Novo Nordisk plans to launch NovoEight (turoctocog alfa), a biologic recombinant coagulation factor VIII for adults and children with hemophilia A. Novoeight— also approved in Europe and Japan—is indicated for control and prevention of bleeding, perioperative management, and routine prophylaxis to prevent or reduce the frequency of bleeding episodes.

Novo Nordisk has sought to beef up its portfolio beyond its NovoSeven (Coagulation Factor vlla [Recombinant]), whose API patent has expired though a room temperature-stable formulation patent remains in effect until 2024. While NovoSeven sales rose 4% last year, to $1.606 billion (DKK 9.256 billion), first-half sales this year dipped 0.1% to $792.9 million (DKK 4.569 billion).

The company’s pipeline includes two Phase III hemophilia candidates—N8-GP (NN7088) for hemophilia A and N9-GP (NN7999) for hemophilia B—and a Phase I monoclonal antibody against Tissue Factor Pathway Inhibitor (TFPI) in hemophilia A and B, concizumab (mAb2021).

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY: ProBioGen Doubling Its Workforce

ProBioGen’s 20th anniversary is a happy one, with the cell-line development and contract manufacturing organization saying it will double its workforce and invest €20 million ($25.8 million) to expand its mammalian manufacturing capabilities.

“We will strengthen our market position, add two additional disposable 1,000 L bioreactors and, within the next two years, will double our staff from currently 75 highly skilled and dedicated employees,” ProBioGen CEO Wieland Wolf, Ph.D., said in a statement.

ProBioGen is a contract development and manufacturing organization and technology services provider specializing in cell-line engineering, upstream- and downstream process development, and GMP manufacturing of biopharmaceuticals. The company announced its plans September 4 at a Berlin ceremony.

ProBioGen is a subsidiary of Minapharm Pharmaceuticals, a Middle East biopharma headquartered in Cairo, Egypt. At the event, Minapharm Chairman Wafik Bardissi, M.D., disclosed plans to generate “synergies”, savings to be invested in drug development at its Egyptian sites and at ProBioGen.

Share your biopharma employment news and trends with JobWatch. Please contact Alex Philippidis via email at aphilippidis@genengnews.com or via Twitter at @AlexWestchester.