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Imclone closes US Erbitux plant

By Gareth Macdonald , 18-Aug-2010

Imclone has closed the manufacturing facility in Branchburg, New Jersey where it produces the cancer drug Erbitux, according to reports in the US media.

The firm, which was bought by US drug major Eli Lilly for $6bn (€7.7bn) in 2008 , employed 140 manufacturing staff at facility BB36 who have been invited to apply for 90 open positions elsewhere at Imclone or accept a severance package.

 

Lilly spokeswoman Janice Chavers told in-Pharmatechnologist that the age of the plant, which used to produce the cancer drug Erbitux, had been a factor in the decision to cease operations.

 

Chavers stressed however that Erbitux, and a number of other therapeutic antibodies in Imclone’s development pipeline, will continue to be made at the firm’s neighbouring BB50 biologics manufacturing facility.

 

She also explained that the BB36 closure was not part of larger restructuring efforts currently being undertaken by the US drugmaker.

 

Last September , Lilly announced plans to reduce its global manufacturing workforce by around 5,000 employees by 2011 to cut costs in the face of looming patent expiry for some key drug products.

 

In broader terms, closure of the Branchburg plant seems like an unusual move for Lilly given that the facility was used as a development centre for other antibody drugs that could be a valuable boost for its flagging pipeline.

 

This is perhaps why, according to Chavers, Lilly is considering the facility’s long-term future rather than, for example, seeking a buyer for it immediately.

 

Acquisitions after AD disappointment?

 

In other news, Eli Lilly has abandoned development of an Alzheimer’s disease drug candidate, semagacestat, at Phase III after data indicated that it appeared to worsen patients’ symptoms.

 

CEO John Lechleiter played down the setback explaining that: “Lilly's innovation strategy, based on advancing a pipeline of nearly 70 molecules currently in clinical development, does not rest on the success or failure of any single compound."

 

Despite this assurance, some observers suggested the failure of semagacestat was a considerable blow to Lilly’s efforts to replenish its pipeline and that it increased the pressure on the firm to pursue acquisitions.

 

Deutsche Bank analyst Barbara Ryan told the New York Times that: “Lilly’s earnings will decline 35 percent by 2014 unless it makes one of the larger acquisitions it has historically resisted.”

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