Drug plant to create jobs

LYNNWOOD – Berlex Laboratories plans to build a $60-million drug manufacturing plant in the Opus Northpointe Corporate Campus, giving a huge shot in the arm to Snohomish County’s growing biotechnology sector.

The new facility, which Berlex hopes to break ground on this year, will be the first large-scale biotech factory in the state.

Berlex is buying 16 acres, allowing for a 90,000-square-foot building and room for expansion. The new plant is expected to create 70 new jobs and may eventually employ a total of 180 people, said David Carlson, a Berlex vice president.

County officials hailed Berlex’s decision as a welcome step toward further diversifying the local economy.

“Their decision is important for both the county and Washington state because our region is already well established as a biotech research and development center,” Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon said. “Now products coming from local research will be manufactured here, too.”

The new plant just north of 164th Street SW will produce Leukine, which is approved to treat cancer patients and is being tested as a treatment for Crohn’s disease. That chronic, debilitating ailment of the intestinal system afflicts up to 500,000 Americans.

Leukine is the brand name of sargramostim, an artificial form of a growth protein normally produced by the body. It helps to increase the number and function of infection-fighting white blood cells. That’s especially useful for cancer patients who’ve undergone chemotherapy, bone marrow or stem-cell transplants.

Developed by Seattle-based Immunex, Leukine was Immunex’s first approved drug in March 1991. The drug was sold in 2002 to Berlex’s parent, Schering AG of Germany, for $380 million because Immunex’s buyer, Amgen Corp., already marketed a competing drug.

Since then, Berlex has employed more than 200 people to make the drug in Seattle and support the program from that location and an office in Bothell’s Canyon Park area. A majority of the employees here still are Immunex alums.

That was an important factor in selecting a location, Carlson said.

“Certainly, one of the considerations was retaining the workforce that’s here. Presumably, you’d lose a good portion of that if you built elsewhere,” he said.

The Lynnwood location also is close to downtown Seattle and offers plenty of room for possible expansion, Carlson said.

“It’s probably about as good a location as you can get,” he said.

For its approved uses, sales of Leukine have been flat at approximately $100 million in recent years, with more than 300,000 patients having taken it. If the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves its use for patients with Crohn’s disease, that could add considerably to the drug’s sales.

Clinical trials last fall showed 48 percent of Crohn’s patients trying the drug reported a significant decrease in their symptoms. Berlex is expected to begin phase 3 trials soon, said Cathy Keck Anderson, a company spokeswoman.

If the FDA approved Leukine for Crohn’s disease, that would likely take place in late 2007 or early 2008. That would coincide with the estimated time it would take to receive regulatory approvals to operate the new Lynnwood plant.

Berlex will receive a sales tax credit for some of its manufacturing equipment, but no other breaks, Keck Anderson said.

If the region wants to attract more biotech manufacturing, they should push the Legislature for more incentives, suggested Ruth Martens Scott, president of the Washington Biotechnology and Biomedical Association. Numerous other states are offering a range of lures to attract such facilities.

“If you look closely at the reasons Berlex decided to grow here, it’s because they have the workforce that’s knowledgeable about Leukine,” she said. “Otherwise, we probably wouldn’t have been competitive.”

Reporter Eric Fetters: 425-339-3453 or fetters@heraldnet.com.

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