AstraZeneca closing U.S. plant, costing 180 jobs

AstraZeneca's headquarters in London--Courtesy of AstraZeneca

AstraZeneca ($AZN) has been fighting a losing legal battle to protect the patent on its asthma drug Pulmicort Respules, and a plant in Massachusetts will pay part of the price. The U.K. drugmaker says it will close the plant next year, putting 180 workers out of jobs.

The facility in Westborough will lose some jobs in March and the rest throughout the year with the plant closing by year end, the Worcester Telegram reports. The company said production will be handled by plants in Sweden and Australia.

"We did not take this decision lightly, and it was made after careful consideration of our business strategy, market indicators and the patients and stakeholders we serve globally," spokeswoman Alisha Martin told the newspaper.

AstraZeneca had patents on the drug that it believed were solid until 2018 but last year lost a challenge. It appealed and managed to get an injunction against generics makers, but that has not stopped a slide in revenues from the product in the U.S. Sales were down 6% to $155 million in the first 9 months of this year, even as they have grown in the rest of the world. Sales outside the U.S. were up 15% to $522 million in the first three quarters, with half of that coming from China, the drugmaker reported in its Q3 report.

AstraZeneca has been whittling down the Westborough plant for a decade. In 2004, it had 850 employees and ran 24 hours a day, the Telegram reports. While the U.K. drugmaker is cutting in Massachusetts, it said last month it would add about 300 jobs in Frederick, MD, in a few years after it completes a $200 million plant to expand its biologics capabilities. That project, which starts this month, is slated to be complete in mid-2017.

- read the Telegram story