Biogen embarks on major manufacturing expansion

Biogen ($BIIB) said this week that it intends to build a $1 billion biologics plant in Switzerland. But the drugmaker expects the new EU facility to be just the first in a major manufacturing expansion that could result in two more new facilities as well as building up capacity at its existing sites.

Biogen spokeswoman Kate Niazi-Sai said the company is working from a 5-year playbook that has weighed its pipeline and growth in its existing portfolio and come to the conclusion that significant additional capacity is warranted.

"We have a pretty rapidly growing pipeline and a need for increased capacity for those, as well as for our current products," Niazi-Sai said. "This is the start of a larger 5-year strategic plan for here and in Europe for manufacturing. You look at your potential future needs and pipeline and what capacity that will take and for us that means the first piece is this new facility that we plan to build."

The Cambridge, MA-based drugmaker is not in a position to disclose any details about what else is on the drawing board, but Biogen is "looking at two potential, additional facilities" beyond the one in Switzerland, as well as increasing capacity at in its existing facilities, Niazi-Sai said.

The drugmaker, which traces its history to Switzerland, said on Tuesday that it intends to build the first new facility in Luterbach, Switzerland, about 120 kilometers from its European headquarters in Zug. Executives expect work to start by year's end and for the new biologics facility to be fully operational by 2021. It projects having 400 employees working there at that point. The project still needs approval from the local community and Biogen is working with officials from Canton Solothurn, one of Switzerland's 26 states, to get that done. It anticipates an OK by the end of the summer.

Biogen's Research Triangle Park, NC, facility

Biogen pointed to its portfolio of products in multiple sclerosis and hemophilia, as well as drugs being developed for Alzheimer's disease and spinal muscular atrophy as among those that created the need for a bigger manufacturing network.

"Our only other plant in Europe is in Denmark and we have a large manufacturing presence in the U.S., in Cambridge and in Research Triangle Park, NC. The advantage of having an extensive manufacturing network is global diversity, so you have backup," Niazi-Sai explained.

With sales of its multiple sclerosis and hemophilia drugs growing, Biogen has already been expanding operations at its manufacturing facilities in North Carolina. Earlier this year it said it was filling about 100 positions at both a biologics plant in Morrisville and a solid-dose facility in Durham.

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