Bristol Myers boosts CAR-T manufacturing footprint, taking over former Novartis site in Illinois

With demand increasing for Bristol Myers Squibb’s CAR-T blood cancer treatments Breyanzi and Abecma, the company has worked to increase the production of the labor-intensive, tough-to-manufacture gene therapies.

Wednesday, BMS revealed that it is expanding its cell therapy manufacturing network, taking over a plant in Libertyville, Illinois, currently owned by Novartis.

Five months ago, Novartis said it would halt operations at the site by the end of this year, leaving its 275 employees out of work. But BMS will keep some of the staff intact.

"BMS is committed to employing the best talent in the industry to support increasing demand of our products," a company spokesperson wrote in an email. "We are continuing to coordinate with Novartis on transition details, which includes hiring of local Novartis employees for the site following the conclusion of their employment with Novartis."

BMS is leasing the site and purchasing its assets, the spokesperson added. The facility will transition to BMS over the course of 2023, subject to the fulfilment of closing conditions, the company said.  

It will increase BMS’ viral vector production, complementing external partnerships and allowing the company to manufacture “current and next-generation vector technology,” BMS’ Karin Shanahan, executive vice president of global product development and supply, said in a release.

This adds to BMS’ two cell therapy manufacturing facilities in New Jersey—in Warren and Summit—and another in Bothell, Washington. The company also has plants in development in Devens, Massachusetts, and Leiden, Netherlands.

Multiple myeloma therapy Abecma and lymphoma treatment Breyanzi were approved a month apart in early 2021. Abecma pulled in sales of $388 million in 2022, up from $164 million the previous year. Breyanzi generated $182 million in revenue in 2022, following sales of $87 million in 2021. The company reports first-quarter earnings Thursday.

In July of last year, BMS said its timeline for production of Breyanzi had been pushed back because of manufacturing issues.

The Libertyville facility was one of three in the U.S. from which Novartis produced gene therapy Zolgensma. But in 2021, the company shut down a plant in Longmont, Colorado, laying off 400. Closing shop in Illinois leaves all of Novartis’ production of the spinal muscular atrophy treatment at its site in Durham, North Carolina.