United Therapeutics wants in revamped Elion-Hitchings soon

Feb. 26, 2014 @ 06:41 PM

The reconstruction of an iconic building in the Research Triangle Park into a research facility for United Therapeutics is expected to be completed soon, a company executive said Wednesday.

The company bought the Elion-Hitchings building and land in 2012 from GlaxoSmithKline, which was consolidating its operations elsewhere in the park. United Therapeutics demolished part of it and started transforming the rest into a multi-purpose facility.

The company wants to use the building to study genetic modification of pig lungs for use in humans, as well as the use of stem cells from patients’ blood to grow human lungs on the template of a pig lung.

Roger Jeffs, president and chief operating officer for the Maryland-based company, said in an interview at the CED Life Sciences Conference that the company plans to have a board meeting at the new facility in April.

Jeffs said the company sought to preserve parts of the Elion-Hitchings building that are visible from more trafficked roadways, out of respect for the building’s architect.

He added that the regenerative-medicine work is part of the charge from CEO Martine Rothblatt, Jeffs said, to develop a cure for pulmonary arterial hypertension. The company is two years into a 10-year challenge from Rothblatt to find the cure, he said.

“It’s all early stage,” he said of the company’s research.

United Therapeutics currently offers four commercialized treatments for pulmonary arterial hypertension, including a new oral treatment. The company makes the new drug in the RTP and also warehouses and distributes it and two other treatments in the RTP.

Andy Fisher, a spokesman for United Therapeutics, said in an email that the company’s headcount in the RTP is “just north” of 240 people. Any staffing needs stemming from the new oral drug likely will be accommodated within the company’s normal, planned headcount growth for the year, he said.

Jeffs said the company employs about 700 people and, based on its current growth targets, would look to add 30 to 50 people in the RTP on an annual basis. He said the company already has posted job openings.