Drugmaker buys three buildings

United Therapeutics purchases facilities from GlaxoSmithKline

June 29, 2012 

Drugmaker United Therapeutics has positioned itself for still more expansion in Research Triangle Park with its purchase of three buildings – including the landmark Elion-Hitchings Building – from GlaxoSmithKline.

United Therapeutics, the Silver Spring, Md., company that is already in the midst of a major expansion of its local operations, paid GSK $17.5 million for the buildings, which encompass 720,000 square feet, and 135 acres of land. The parcel is adjacent to United’s 55-acre RTP site, which employs more than 100 workers.

Andrew Fisher, chief strategy officer and deputy general counsel, said United Therapeutics doesn’t yet have any specific plans for the site, nor does it have a timetable for developing them.

“We have had a 16-year presence in the Triangle and really like being a member of the community,” said Fisher, who praised the local labor pool. “It just makes sense to continue building our presence where we like being.”

United Therapeutics is close to completing construction of a 177,000-square-foot expansion in RTP that will give it the capacity to employ up to 350 workers.

Bob Geolas, president and CEO of the Research Triangle Foundation, which runs the 7,000-acre park, applauded United Therapeutics’ acquisition.

“In this market, seeing the companies we have wanting to grow and expand is a good thing,” he said.

Surging sales of the drug Remodulin, which is used to treat high blood pressure, and two other cardiopulmonary drugs have enabled United Therapeutics to be in expansion mode. The company posted $743.2 million in sales last year, up 25 percent from 2010 and double 2009’s total.

In addition, United Therapeutics is seeking Food and Drug Administration approval for its experimental oral treatment for pulmonary hypertension. The FDA could make a decision on the experimental drug before the end of the year.

The final stages of manufacturing that drug, as well as packaging and distribution, would be performed at RTP.

GSK put the massive Elion-Hitchings Building up for sale in June 2010, when it unveiled a plan to drastically reduce its real estate footprint in the Triangle as part of a worldwide cost-cutting effort. That cost-cutting included layoffs.

GSK vacated Elion-Hitchings, whose futuristic interior was seen in the 1983 sci-fi thriller “Brainstorm” starring Christopher Walken and Natalie Wood, last fall. It originally served as the U.S. headquarters for Burroughs Wellcome, which was acquired by Glaxo. The company became GlaxoSmithKline after a subsequent merger with SmithKline Beecham.

GSK is still seeking to sell two buildings totaling 194,000 square feet on Swabia Court, near Interstate 40 and I-540 in Durham, and 107 acres at 3029 E. Cornwallis Road. Three buildings have been demolished on the latter parcel, but two warehouses remain, GSK spokesman Kevin Colgan said.

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