With Ben Venue cuts, Boehringer Ingelheim targets up to 640 U.S. jobs

Boehringer Ingelheim will close some production at the troubled Ben Venue plant in Bedford, OH, by the end of the year, a move that could lead to the loss of up to 400 jobs. That is in addition to the 240 jobs slated to be whacked by the German drugmaker as it closes an API plant in Virginia.

In January, the company signed a consent decree covering the Bedford plant, which for years had manufacturing issues that led to repeated recalls. Asked for an update on progress at the facility, Boehringer Ingelheim spokeswoman Julia Löffelsend pointed to a June notice posted on the Ben Venue website. It says, "Ben Venue will cease production in one of the company's older manufacturing facilities and … aseptic filling operations of drugs manufactured in the company's oldest manufacturing facility, both by the end of 2013." The company "will concentrate production in the company's newer, more commercially sustainable facilities."

The notice says the company will continue to employ about 800 people at the manufacturing complex. Löffelsend said in an email today that Ben Venue currently employs about 1,200 people there, but "the actual number of roles Ben Venue will eliminate is yet to be determined based on our ongoing organizational redesign work."

Löffelsend said the Bedford manufacturing facility "is not losing contracts" but will execute the plan it announced in August 2011 to get out of contract manufacturing and concentrate on its own generic sterile injectables business.

In 2011, the Ben Venue plant was savaged by the FDA for a long list of serious manufacturing shortcomings. The plant had 40 product recalls from 2002 until it voluntarily closed some operations in November 2011. Among drugs that fell into short supply when that happened were Johnson & Johnson's ($JNJ) Doxil, a commonly prescribed cancer drug. With the consent decree, the FDA found itself caught between enforcing company accountability and not exacerbating drug shortages. The decree barred the plant from manufacturing some drugs until the agency is satisfied that problems there are rectified. But the FDA also allowed it to continue to manufacture 100 drugs considered "essential for patient care." The company has said it has invested more than $300 million on improvements at the plant since the 2011 citation.

The company last week announced it would phase out production at its API plant in Petersburg, VA, cutting about 240 jobs as the plant prepares for a final closure at the end of next year. It said the plant is older and it no longers needs all of the capacity. Of course, it's far from the only company tightening up its manufacturing network. Earlier this month, for example, Merck ($MRK) said it would close a plant in Kenilworth, NJ, in October, with 110 employees getting the boot.

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