Alexion adding a plant and a couple hundred jobs to its budding Irish base

While rare disease drugmaker Alexion has had its issues with England, it has found a lot to love in Ireland. Taking advantage of that country's generous tax rate, it has turned that country into its European base of operations. With a pipeline of new drugs brewing, the rare disease specialist intends now to build a new plant and add a couple hundred more workers there.

The maker of Soliris, the most expensive drug in the world, said it will spend €450 million ($506 million) for a 60,000-square-foot biologics plant, its first outside the U.S. When complete in about four years, Alexion ($ALXN) expects to have 200 employees working there.

That will add to a growing Irish workforce, which it anticipates to hit 300 by 2016 from 170 today as it completes other projects already underway. The plant will be at a site just outside of Dublin where it already is working on an $84 million logistics center that includes laboratories, packaging and warehousing operations. It also is working on a vial-filling facility in Athlone, about 125 km to the west of Dublin in the middle of the country.

Alexion's Julie O'Neill

Alexion executive VP Julie O'Neill said in a statement that Alexion drugs are already being used by patients in Ireland with one of two very rare diseases and "with this major expansion, our Irish operations, comprising biologics manufacturing, vial fill-finish and global supply chain, will be at the forefront of this vital work globally."

The Cheshire, CT-based Alexion makes Soliris for treating a handful of rare diseases. Its top-drawer price of about $569,000 a treatment year made regulators in the U.K. uncomfortable. Cost watchdog NICE wanted Alexion to fork over information on the company's R&D costs to justify the drug's high sticker price. Alexion hedged and NICE backed down, although it did put conditions on the approval.

But having had big success with the orphan drug, Alexion intends to build its future by focusing on other rare diseases. Toward that end last week trumpeted an $8.4 billion deal to buy another rare disease specialist, Synageva ($GEVA). Synageva has a potential blockbuster drug in late-stage trials for treating early onset lysosomal acid lipase deficiency, which can be fatal to infants.

- here's the release

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