Drugmakers Biogen Idec and Eisai have joined forces in an effort that they say strengthens both of the companies’ manufacturing facilities in Research Triangle Park.
Massachusetts-based Biogen has agreed to lease a portion of Eisai’s facility to manufacture drugs in pill form for both companies. As part of the deal, in early 2013 about 50 Eisai workers are expected to become employees of Biogen, which already has more than 1,000 workers in RTP. Today Eisai has about 225 workers in RTP.
In turn Eisai, a Japanese company, will handle vial-filling services for Biogen’s biologic drugs – that is, drugs made of living cells rather than chemicals or other compounds. The high-tech process requires a sterile environment.
Eisai also will provide packaging services for Biogen pills.
Biogen is leasing Eisai’s pill-making facility for 10 years and also has an option to purchase it.
“The innovative element of this alliance is that we are co-dependent,” said Lou Arp, general manager of Eisai’s RTP site and president of global oncology manufacturing.
Financial details weren’t disclosed, but the two companies said they will be paid for the work they do for each other.
The deal grew out of Biogen’s desire to add the capacity to produce pills and Eisai’s inability to fully utilize its manufacturing facility.
Until now, Biogen could only produce biologic drugs, said Machelle Sanders, vice president of manufacturing and general manager of its RTP site. As a result, the company already has arranged for a contract manufacturer to produce BG-12, an experimental multiple sclerosis drug, which will be available as a pill. BG-12 has completed the gantlet of required tests and is seeking approval from the Food and Drug Administration.
Biogen also has several pills in its pipeline of experimental drugs, including a treatment for Lou Gehrig’s disease that is in the third and final phase of clinical trials.
Biogen will focus on making pills for Eisai in the short term, but down the road, it anticipates producing Biogen brand pills locally, Sanders aid.
Biogen has been growing in RTP. It has added about 150 employees since April 2011 and recently dedicated a new five-story, 190,000-square-foot office building. The company, best-known for its MS drugs Avonex and Tysabri, generated $5.05 billion in revenue in 2011 and had a 6 percent rise in revenue and 13 percent jump in net income in the latest quarter.
Eisai has more pill-making capacity than it needs because of the declining sales of its one-time blockbuster Alzheimer’s treatment, Aricept, which lost its patent protection in 2010.
The company is focusing on injectable drugs and has “a substantial pipeline” of experimental injectables that are being tested as treatments for ovarian, thyroid, lung and colorectal cancers and melanoma, Arp said.
Eisai opened a $100 million, 65,000-square-foot facility in RTP in May 2010 to produce and package cancer drugs – its third local expansion since it began operating in RTP in 1995. But in March 2011, the company announced plans to eliminate about 600 jobs in the U.S., including 70 in RTP, in the wake of slower sales.
Eisai generated $9.3 billion in revenue in fiscal 2011. In the six months that ended Sept. 30, sales fell 6 percent.
The two companies’ RTP manufacturing facilities are in walking distance of each other. They have compared notes on manufacturing “best practices” for the past few years and entered into serious negotiations several months ago based on their mutual needs.