When Novartis leased a facility in Longmont, CO just a year ago from AstraZeneca, it had big plans to ramp up manufacturing for gene therapy Zolgensma. That was just on the heels of the AveXis data scandal, and now, with Zolgensma sales flagging, Novartis has decided to walk away.
Novartis will depart the Longmont site by June 9 at the latest, the company said in a statement, which will leave 400 employees across the facility without jobs.
Novartis’s gene therapy wing — previously known as AveXis — leased the facility from AstraZeneca in January 2020 to produce Zolgensma, which is approved to treat children less than 2 years old with spinal muscular atrophy. The drug is the most expensive in the world, with a list price of £1.79 million. Before that, the facility belonged to Amgen.
The Swiss drugmaker pitched the move as an investment in its next-gen pipeline given the “evolving dynamics of the gene therapy landscape,” the company said, but it’s hard not to see throughlines from Zolgensma’s flagging sales. In Q4, Zolgensma pulled in $254 million, a decrease from the $291 million it snagged in Q3.
— Brad Loncar (@bradloncar) March 25, 2021
With Longmont off the table, Novartis will focus production of Zolgensma and candidates OAV201 and OAV401 at plants in Libertyville, IL, and Durham, NC. The drugmaker will also leverage existing contract manufacturers in the effort.
“We now know that we can fulfill our long-term demand, including for patients who may benefit from our next wave of gene therapies, with two commercial sites coupled with the technical development capabilities at our San Diego site, as well as our extensive network of external partners,” the company said.
On top of Zolgensma’s less-than-stellar forecast, Novartis has nothing but headaches since it picked up AveXis for $8.7 billion back in April 2018. In late 2019, the FDA accused Novartis of covering manipulated data from the AveXis unit, which the drugmaker then turned around and blamed two of the unit’s leaders — brothers Brian and Allan Kaspar. Both were fired that same month.
This isn’t the first time Novartis has walked away from a Colorado plant. In 2017, the drugmaker unveiled plans to shutter its Bromfield operations and cut 450 jobs over two years due to declining sales. In 2019, that location was sold to Mile High Labs, a Colorado-based CBD company.