Novartis' AveXis buys AstraZeneca site in Colorado as it anticipates gene therapy launch

Novartis has big plans in gene therapies, and its biotech AveXis is building out a significant manufacturing network to help the Swiss drugmaker realize them. AveXis has snatched up a former AstraZeneca plant in Colorado, adding to three production sites it already has.

AveXis Monday said it acquired the six-building campus in Longmont, Colorado, which has nearly 700,000 square feet of space for biologic drug manufacturing as well as offices, laboratories, warehousing and utilities.

A spokeswoman confirmed in an email today that the facility is the site AstraZeneca closed in January. Terms were not disclosed. She said the biotech will offer jobs to the approximately 150 employees that had worked at the AstraZeneca site, as well as add more jobs in the near future.

"AveXis' success requires not just medical breakthroughs, but innovations in R&D and manufacturing. With the opening of our fourth location in the US, we will create more than 1,000 high-tech biologics manufacturing jobs by the end of 2019," AveXis President Dave Lennon said in a statement.

RELATED: AstraZeneca lays off 210 workers in Colorado as it closes 2 ex-Amgen plants

The company has an existing manufacturing site in Illinois and is expanding one it has in San Diego. Last year it announced plans to build a new facility in Durham, North Carolina, and just weeks ago said it now plans to more than double the size of that site to 400 employees, with an investment of about $115 million.

The start-up activities in Longmont will include preparing the facility for scaling, manufacturing and testing of gene therapies as well as hiring staff. AveXis said the rapid expansion is in anticipation of launching Zolgensma, its investigational gene therapy for spinal muscular atrophy Type 1, as well as for other gene therapies it has in development.

The application for Zolgensma was accepted by the FDA in December and granted breakthrough therapy designation and a priority review. Its regulatory action is expected in May. The adeno-associated virus (AAV) gene therapy is delivered as a single, one-time infusion and works by replacing a missing or defective SMN1 gene with a functional copy.

Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan is making a sizable bet on new therapies, particularly gene treatments. Novartis’ $8.7 billion deal for AveXis last year makes it a lead player in AAV gene therapies, and it also has its place in CAR-T, two of the most promising fields in biotech.

In 2017, Novartis became the first drugmaker to win an approval globally for a cell therapy—Kymriah. The new drugs also come with new and tricky manufacturing methods. The rollout of Kymriah has been hindered by a manufacturing setback the company is working to overcome.

Shortly after Kymriah’s approval, Gilead Sciences won an FDA OK for its CAR-T treatment Yescarta. Since then, Spark Therapeutics has also won an approval for blindness gene therapy Luxturna, and others are on the cusp of approval.