Braeburn Pharma to stay in NC despite HB2 qualms

A New Jersey specialty drug maker that had threatened to cancel a planned expansion in Durham County over House Bill 2 said Tuesday the expansion will go on.

In the process, the 29-employee startup strayed into the political crossfire of North Carolina’s gubernatorial campaign.

Braeburn Pharmaceuticals, which develops pill-free drugs for psychiatric disorders, said it will “advocate for progressive public policy” and fight social injustice from within North Carolina, in reference to HB2. The company had said in March it was reconsidering its plan to invest $19.9 million in a new facility in Morrisville and create 52 jobs.

“We seriously considered moving our manufacturing facility to another state to send a clear message about the depth of our commitment,” said Braeburn CEO Behshad Sheldon in a statement. “Ultimately, however, we concluded that abandoning Braeburn’s job creation plans in Durham County would unfairly penalize a community that shares Braeburn’s commitment to equality.”

The company issued a statement criticizing HB2 and applauded Durham County’s support of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. HB2 prohibits local governments from creating their own anti-discrimination laws and and requires transgender people to use the bathroom that corresponds to their sexual anatomy rather than their gender identity.

Braeburn’s 34,000-square-foot manufacturing and research facility is scheduled to open in early 2017.

The company is eligible to receive a $100,000 grant from the One North Carolina Fund if it meets investment and job-creation milestones. The grant is to be matched by $50,000 from the N.C. Biotech Center, $50,000 from Longfellow Real Estate Partners and $75,400 from the N.C. Community College System for workforce training.

In the company’s statement, Sheldon said that she elected to keep the company in North Carolina after meeting with Attorney General Roy Cooper, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate who urged Braeburn to stay in the state and fight discrimination.

“The Attorney General argued that Braeburn could help more by advocating from within North Carolina than by protesting through departure,” the statement said.

After HB2 was challenged by the U.S. Department of Justice, Gov. Pat McCrory also lobbied Braeburn to move forward with its North Carolina project.

“As North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory explained in a recent meeting with Sheldon in which he also encouraged Braeburn to stay in North Carolina, it now appears that federal courts will move swiftly to rule on the legality of HB2, which means that the issues presented by HB2 are now national in scope rather than unique to North Carolina,” the company said in its statement. “Braeburn expects that the DOJ will ultimately prevail and that eventually all states will be prohibited from enacting and enforcing laws like HB2.”

Both the McCrory and Cooper campaigns later issued dueling statements about Braeburn’s decision.

“Today’s announcement by Braeburn shows that Roy Cooper is doing everything he can to protect our economy against Pat McCrory’s job killing law,” the Cooper campaign said.

“Whether they were really ever serious about pulling their investment or not, Braeburn Pharmaceuticals made the right decision not to follow through on their threats while this national issue works its way through the courts,” McCrory Campaign Manager Russell Peck said.

Braeburn is developing implantable and injectable treatments for neurological and psychiatric disorders, such as addiction, pain and schizophrenia. The company is expecting a decision from the Food and Drug Administration on May 27 whether Braeburn’s implant, probuphine, can be marketed and sold to treat opioid dependence.

If approved, probuphine would eventually be manufactured in the planned Morrisville plant, but in the interim the drug would be manufactured in Texas.

John Murawski: 919-829-8932, @johnmurawski