Novartis adds to biologics manufacturing in midst of global job cutting

Novartis is adding jobs to its biologics manufacturing operations even as the Swiss company makes cuts across other parts of its global operations, including traditional manufacturing.

The company said on Wednesday that it would add about 40 positions to its production site in Morris Plains, New Jersey, a facility where it is concentrating on the intricate manufacturing processes necessary for producing CAR-T immuno-oncology treatments.

That comes as it confirmed that it would lop off 250 jobs from other operations in the U.S. The company filed a WARN notice in New Jersey indicating that 204 jobs would be trimmed from its East Hanover, New Jersey, operations effective July 28. The company confirmed the cuts in an email, saying another 45 or so jobs will be eliminated from various U.S. locations including Fort Worth, Texas, and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

RELATED: Novartis to sever 250 U.S. workers, after announcing 500 cuts in Switzerland

Late last week, the company said it would add about 350 jobs in Switzerland, mostly in “innovative biologics manufacturing” and development—even as it intended to eliminate 500 slots in traditional manufacturing, coordination and development operations over the next year and a half. Those cuts include plans to close production sites in Basel and at the Schweizerhalle industrial complex in canton Basel, according to Swissinfo, which reported some jobs are being transferred to India.

RELATED: Novartis whacks 500 old-line jobs in Switzerland but adds 350 in 'high tech'

The shift to an emphasis on biologics manufacturing is coming across the board for branded drugmakers as more and more of their new drugs and pipeline candidates are injected large cell-based products.

Novartis’ cross-town rival Roche, for example, laid out plans in 2013 to invest nearly $1 billion to beef up its biologics manufacturing operations across the globe. Eli Lilly recently moved forward with plans to expand a biologics plant in Ireland, with plans to add 130 jobs there.

Contract manufacturers have been bringing on biologics production capacity all of the world in anticipation that drugmakers won’t want to build all the plants necessary for this surge in new injectable drugs.

South Korea’s Samsung has even jumped into the fray with no prior experience in drug production, believing that its phone and chemical production experience would help it excel in the market. It is nearing completion of a massive biologics complex in Songdo, Incheon, in which it has invested more than $2.5 billion.  

RELATED: Samsung BioLogics nears finish line with massive biologics manufacturing project

Last year, even as Novartis decided to disband its cell and gene therapy unit that has done its initial CAR-T work—letting go of 120 of the 400 workers and redeploying the rest––the Swiss drugmaker reiterated its commitment to building out the intricate manufacturing processes necessary to producing a CAR-T treatment. It has said it expects to file its first application for a CAR-T drug to the FDA and EMA sometime this year.

RELATED: Novartis commits to CAR-T manufacturing in restructure of cell therapy work 

It is doing the manufacturing work at the Morris Plains facility that it acquired in 2012 from cancer vaccine maker Dendreon as that company was looking to raise money.

The personalized cell treatment has shown big promise, but the manufacturing element is complicated. One of the big questions for drugmakers is how they will cost effectively handle that side of it.

CAR-T cells are made by extracting immune system T cells from an individual patient and altering the DNA to equip them with targeting mechanisms called chimeric antigen receptors (CARs). The CARs seek out and bind to proteins expressed by cancer cells, and then the altered cells are infused back into the same patient. The process takes about two weeks.