AstraZeneca scoops up Amgen U.S. plant to boost biologics capacity

When AstraZeneca ($AZN) announced plans last spring to build a $285 million biologics facility in Sweden, it said it would be the first of several investments in its large-molecule manufacturing capacity that it would be making. Now the U.K. drugmaker says it has acquired a biologics plant in Colorado from Amgen ($AMGN).

On Friday, AstraZeneca said it had bought a 300,000-square-foot plant in Boulder that Amgen said last year it would close as part of its plans to cut 4,000 employees. AstraZeneca said it will immediately start work to refurbish the facility and shoot for it to be operational in 2017. The company said it expects to eventually hire 400 people to staff the plant. Terms of the deal were kept under wraps.

The facility will double the company's biologics capacity in the U.S., which it said is needed given that half of the 120 drugs in its pipeline are large-molecule candidates. Like other drugmakers, AstraZeneca is turning more to large-molecule, large-profit specialty drugs to drive its future.

"This site will play an important role in our future commercial production and give AstraZeneca and MedImmune, our global biologics research and development arm, the flexibility and capacity to meet the needs of our rapidly growing biologics portfolio," said Pam Cheng, executive VP of operations and IT for AstraZeneca, in a release.

Amgen put a For Sale sign on the facility last year after deciding it would be sacrificed as part of its plan to boost its share price by cutting about 20% of its workforce, around 4,000 employees. Its staged cuts in the Boulder area amounted to about 650 people.

AstraZeneca has made a couple of moves to beef up its biologics manufacturing capacity in the past year. Last year, the company laid out plans to invest more than $200 million to expand a biologics facility in Frederick, MD, then followed that in May with the announcement that it would build the $285 million biologics facility in Sweden where it will add 250 jobs. That new filling and packaging facility for protein-based drugs will be at its Södertälje site, home of its largest tablets and capsules manufacturing operation. The company expects to be producing product for clinical trials by 2018 and be ready for commercial production in 2019. When fully operational, it will add 150 to 250 jobs.

- here's the release