GlaxoSmithKline is seeking to produce and package more drugs for other pharmaceutical companies at its manufacturing facility inZebulon, in a bid to stave off further cutbacks.
Federal regulators last week ordered tougher restrictions on GSK's diabetes drug Avandia. On Friday, the government action prompted London-based GSK to halt Avandia packaging in Zebulon, which makes GSK drugs for North America.
The move, on top of other business pressures, could cost dozens of jobs. The Zebulon facility, which opened in 1983, has lost more than half its work force in several waves of layoffs in recent years. It's now down to about 500 people, from more than 1,000. The site is Zebulon's biggest employer and produces more than 20 GSK brands.
But with Avandia out of the pipeline, GSK wants to take up the slack as a contract drug manufacturer.
"Get the word out," GSK's human resources director Gigi Nelson told several dozen public officials and business leaders in Raleigh at a manufacturing rally Monday. "We're open for business."
Only a fraction of the work at GSK's Zebulon facility is contract manufacturing for other companies, spokeswoman Mary Anne Rhyne said. She couldn't say how much capacity GSK will have for contract work as a result of the Avandia cutbacks.
"We want to stay busy," Rhyne said. "When our production and manufacturing is not operating at full capacity, we may have to review staffing and resources."
The Zebulon facility competes with other GSK plants worldwide to win new manufacturing work within the company.
GSK now makes Avandia in limited quantities at just one location, in Spain.
Health regulators are worried that Avandia, once the best-selling diabetes drug in the world, increases risk of heart attack and stroke. The drug has been suspended in Europe. Restrictions in this country are expected to cause further declines in sales.
The news comes as GSK continues other efforts to cut costs and offset slowing sales of some of its leading drugs, including Avandia. In 2007, the company announced that it would reduce expenses by $1.4 billion over the next three years, an effort that led to layoffs at the Zebulon facility.
GSK's specialty in Zebulon is solid dose products, the industry term for tablets and pills, as well as inhaled drugs such as the asthma medicine Advair. In other facilities around the world, GSK produces fluids, syringes and other products.
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