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 The leading web portal for pharmacy resources, news, education and careers September 24, 2017
Pharmacy Choice - Pharmaceutical News - Drug maker Alexion to close R.I. plant [The Providence Journal, R.I.] - September 24, 2017

Pharmacy News Article

 9/13/17 - Drug maker Alexion to close R.I. plant [The Providence Journal, R.I.]

Sept. 13PROVIDENCE, R.I. Global drug manufacturer Alexion Pharmaceuticals' decision to shutter its Smithfield facility and eliminate 250 full-time jobs in Rhode Island surprised state leaders Monday afternoon, but Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor and academic and business leaders remain optimistic about the state's biotechnology industry.

Tuesday morning, Alexion announced a global restructuring that includes cutting 20 percent of its 3,000 employees worldwide and moving its headquarters from New Haven, Connecticut, to Boston.

Pryor said a company executive emailed him Monday about the local impact, and then he and company executives spoke about how to help displaced workers find other jobs and how to coordinate efforts to find a new use and tenant for the Alexion factory.

Despite Alexion's decision, Pryor and leaders in the state's bioscience industry emphasized ongoing academic research and activity that remains strong in Rhode Island.

"While this is not good, I don't think this is a death knell for the Rhode Island biotech industry because so many other things have happened, particularly with the Wexford life-sciences company about to break ground and the Cambridge Innovation Center coming to Rhode Island," said Gregory Paquette, who is transitioning into retirement but has worked the past 35 years as director of the University of Rhode Island's medical laboratory science and biotechnology programs and as a professor.

Attracting the Baltimore-based Wexford Science & Technology, which soon expects to begin building an innovation center on former highway land in Providence, is a central initiative of Gov. Gina Raimondo's economic-development strategy and one Pryor is charged with overseeing. Expected to draw researchers and entrepreneurs in the life-sciences industry, Wexford has already announced tenants: the Cambridge Innovation Center and Brown University.

The highly regarded Cambridge Innovation Center offers new and growing companies shared working space, access to venture-capital investors, and networking opportunities.

Paquette, now an emeritus professor at URI and interim director of the programs while the university seeks a new director, said of Wexford and its CIC tenant:

"Those could do for the biotech industry what Raytheon, Electric Boat and NUWC [the Naval Undersea Warfare Center] have done for the defense industry, probably the most mature industry in the state. Until the whole Wexford life-sciences thing happened, Rhode Island was kind of chugging along, but this is really kind of the game changer for Rhode Island, and we haven't seen anything yet. I think over the next decade, we're going to see dramatic growth."

The biosciences industry employed about 4,600 people and was expected to grow in a report released in 2014 by the Tech Collective, the state's industry association for bioscience and information technology. While private-sector employment sagged in Rhode Island by 4 percent from 2002 to 2012, bioscience jobs grew by 24 percent, according to the report. Paquette said that employment number is likely now higher.

At the Slater Technology Fund, which invests federal money into local startups and helps scientists start companies, managing director Richard G. Horan said Alexion and Amgen together employed about 1,000 of perhaps 1,250 biomanufacturing employees in Rhode Island. Hence, Alexion's facility closure affects about 20 percent of such employees here, he said.

But, Horan emphasized, biomanufacturing is just one piece of a larger industry that encompasses research, development, clinical trial work, marketing and sales jobs.

Alternatively, the state's bioresearch enterprise, with funding from the National Institutes of Health, is likely comparable in size to the Amgen and Alexion plants, Horan said.

"And frankly, it [that bioresearch enterprise] is the one that has greater staying power because it's embedded in the academic research institutions that have been here for quite a long time," Horan said.

So, on losing Alexion, Horan said: "For Rhode Island, it's a body blow, no doubt, but I don't consider it a knock-out punch. To put it in context for Connecticut, I think it's more of a TKO [technical knock out], given the consideration to relocate to Boston."

Both Pryor and Paquette said they were aware Alexion has had internal problems in the past year and leadership turnover three CEOs, including an interim chief.

But in the highly complex, evolving biopharmaceutical manufacturing industry, Paquette said such issues are not unusual. And he's unconcerned about Alexion's long-term prospects, especially because the drug Soliris that it has manufactured in Rhode Island is the only drug approved to treat patients with certain rare diseases.

Pryor noted Wexford's plans to build and the administration's recent attraction of Johnson & Johnson and Virgin Pulse all companies the state has helped with financial incentives as they begin hiring technology and health-care workers. Additionally, he said the state has awarded innovation vouchers, typically about $50,000 each, to 40 budding companies, including in the bioscience, health and medical fields.

In the summer of 2016, Alexion announced the start of a $200-million expansion of its Smithfield plant, at 100 Technology Way. Then-CEO David Hallal said the company expected to more than double the facility's size, support increased manufacturing of Soliris and look to manufacture new drugs to treat other rare illnesses.

Even through this summer, Pryor said he and company officials have been in talks about that work, and company leaders had not discussed the global restructuring.

On Tuesday morning, most of the 250 full-time employees who work in the company's Smithfield facility were told their jobs will be eliminated as the plant closes in phases, starting at year's end and concluding by June 2018, Alexion spokeswoman Kim Diamond said.

The company expects to put the Smithfield facility up for sale, Diamond said.

Last December, Hallal and Alexion's Chief Financial Officer Vikas Sinha departed amid allegations of improper sales practices.

Alexion expects to retain about 450 of its current 850 employees in New Haven, and to relocate about 400 employees to Boston, Diamond said.

kbramson@providencejournal.com

(401) 277-7470

On Twitter: @JournalKate

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(c)2017 The Providence Journal (Providence, R.I.)

Visit The Providence Journal (Providence, R.I.) at www.projo.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.




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