- Gene therapy developer Bluebird bio is offloading a manufacturing facility in North Carolina ahead of plans to split itself into two separate companies.
- As part of the deal, the startup manufacturing specialist National Resilience will pay Bluebird $110 million for the plant in the Research Triangle tech corridor. National Resilience will also guarantee access to lentiviral vectors used in Bluebird's therapies, and plans to work with the oncology business the company is splitting off, 2seventy bio, on its next phase of pipeline products under a risk-sharing model.
- The cash will strengthen the balance sheet of both Bluebird and 2seventy when they split later this year. Bluebird executives told analysts they expect the agreement to generate operational savings of about $25 million a year for both companies.
The deal represents a "rational bit of self-help" for Bluebird, SVB Leerink analyst Mani Foroohar wrote in a note to investors. While it's unusual for such a specialized company to give up part of its in-house production, Bluebird has run into a series of manufacturing-related delays. Added cash and cost savings could help reassure shareholders.
National Resilience, meanwhile, is quickly building a significant North American network to fulfill its goal of developing "the world's most advanced biopharmaceutical manufacturing ecosystem." Founded last November, the company started out with more than $800 million in capital and a focus on cutting-edge medicines such as cell and gene therapies.
This year, National Resilience bought a 310,000-square-foot plant in Boston from Sanofi and a 136,000-square-foot facility in Ontario. The 125,000-square-foot Bluebird plant in Durham has room for future expansion and will bring National Resilience's North American total to 10 facilities and more than 1 million square feet of space. The company said it plans to retain all the employees at the plant.
Bluebird and National Resilience also said they are putting the finishing touches on a deal to establish a "next-generation" manufacturing partnership.
Despite its past struggles, Bluebird has had a spate of positive updates in recent months. In June, U.S. regulators allowed the company restart trials of a gene therapy for sickle cell disease and beta-thalassemia after reviewing concerns about cancer cases in two study participants. Bluebird also resumed marketing its Zynteglo gene therapy in Europe after voluntarily halting marketing over safety concerns.
Additionally, Bluebird has continued to bring new products to market. Last week, European regulators cleared use of Skysona to treat a rare neurological disorder called cerebral adrenoleukodystrophy. In March, the company and partner Bristol Myers Squibb won U.S. clearance for the cell therapy Abecma for multiple myeloma.