Novartis-owned biotech company AveXis has announced plans to build a new $55 million facility to support production of its spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) gene therapy, AVXS-101. The manufacturing plant will be located in Durham, North Carolina and is expected to create 200 new jobs.
AVXS-101 is currently in development by AveXis to treat three forms of SMA. The gene therapy is designed to provide patients with a fully-functional copy of the SMN1 gene which is mutated in those with SMA. Biogen’s Spinraza (nusinersin) was approved by the FDA in late 2016 as the first and only treatment for patients with this muscle disorder. However, if AVXS-101 eventually gains regulatory approval, it could have an edge over Spinraza as a potentially-curative one-time treatment for SMA.
The state of Illinois was battling it out with North Carolina to make their cities the most attractive locations for AveXis’ new gene therapy manufacturing facility. Despite the Illinois state government’s offer of nearly $8 million in tax credits, the city of Durham, North Carolina won over Libertyville, Illinois thanks to a $3 million incentive package offered by the state of North Carolina.
“It’s notable that AveXis has chosen to expand its manufacturing operations in North Carolina,” North Carolina’s Secretary of Commerce, Tony Copeland, said in a statement. “Life science companies understand the many advantages of our state offers manufacturers, particularly the investments North Carolina has made in education and workforce training for the biotechnology industry.”
New jobs created by the manufacturing plant will be high-level positions commanding an average salary of over six-figures. Engineering, manufacturing and supply chain positions will top the list of new hires in a county with an average wage that is currently just under $70,000.
While AVXS-101 is currently AveXis’ lead candidate, the company plans to develop other gene therapies in the rare disease space. Since neurology is their focus, a form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) known as Rett syndrome is one of their next drug development targets.
“The transformation of gene-based technologies into economic impact in North Carolina continues to be a focus of the Biotechnology Center, not only for human health but also for animal health and agriculture,” said Bill Bullock, senior vice president of statewide operations & economic development with the North Carolina Biotechnology Center.
The promise of AVXS-101 for treating SMA was one of the primary drivers behind Novartis’ decision to acquire the biotech last month. The $8.7 billion deal provided AveXis with a value of $218 per share.
“Bringing AveXis on board would support both our ambition to be a leader in neurodegenerative diseases and our Neuroscience franchise priorities to strengthen our position in devastating pediatric neurological diseases such as SMA,” said Paul Hudson, CEO Novartis Pharmaceuticals. “We relish the opportunity to leverage our expertise, our 70-plus year heritage in neuroscience and our global footprint to help AVXS-101 benefit high-need SMA patients around the world.”