AbbVie readies production in anticipation of hep C treatment approval

AbbVie ($ABBV) is awaiting the decisions of regulators for its closely followed new interferon-free, oral hepatitis C drug that will go head-to-head with Sovaldi. And it has lined up its production horses so that it will be ready to blast out of the gates if approvals are granted in the U.S. and Europe.

The North Chicago drugmaker said this week that an €85 million ($115 million) expansion at its active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) plant in Sligo, Ireland is complete. The new lines and 175 new employees are ready for production of APIs for the hep C treatment, as well as a host of other drugs in the AbbVie pipeline.

"This expansion builds capacity for existing products and for potential therapies in our pipeline, such as our investigational, all-oral, interferon-free regimen for the treatment of adult patients with chronic genotype 1 hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection," Azita Saleki-Gerhardt, senior VP of operations, said in a statement.

AbbVie, which was spun off from Abbott Laboratories at the beginning of last year, reaps more than half of its revenues from rheumatoid arthritis drug Humira, currently the best-selling drug in the world with 2013 sales of $11.2 billion. But in April it submitted its application to the FDA for its highly-anticipated hep C treatment and followed that up with an application in the EU in May. The multi-drug treatment has generated strong clinical data so is expected to be a convincing competitor to Sovaldi, the oral hep C drug that Gilead Sciences ($GILD) released late last year.

Gilead's Sovaldi--Courtesy of Gilead

Sovaldi has been such a big seller, generating $2.27 billion in the first full quarter, that it promises to unseat Humira as the world's best selling products, and to do so quickly. But payers are looking forward to AbbVie's new hepatitis treatment, hoping they might be able to negotiate a discount to the $84,000 regimen cost of Sovaldi in the U.S., which they say is too high given the extensive hep C problem in the world. If AbbVie tries to grab market share by coming in with a lower price, it could pressure Gilead to drop the cost of Sovaldi.

AbbVie has other promising drugs in its pipeline and said it needs the extra capacity at the plant for those, as well as existing products.

- read the announcement

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