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Gene therapy company bringing 200 jobs to Durham

AveXis' main drug treats spinal muscular atrophy, also called SMA, a genetic disease that affects the part of the nervous system that controls voluntary muscle movement.
AveXis' main drug treats spinal muscular atrophy, also called SMA, a genetic disease that affects the part of the nervous system that controls voluntary muscle movement. Courtesy of AveXis

AveXis, a clinical-stage gene therapy company that makes treatments for spinal muscular atrophy, plans to create 200 jobs in Durham County, after receiving an incentive package worth up to nearly $3 million from the state.

Durham was apparently competing with the state of Illinois, where AveXis is currently headquartered, for the jobs. Illinois had approved tax credits of nearly $8 million to lure the new jobs to Libertyville, Illinois.

The new jobs — which will be engineering, manufacturing and supply chain jobs — will have a minimum average wage of $103,449. The average wage in Durham County is $67,537.

“It’s notable that AveXis has chosen to expand its manufacturing operations in North Carolina,” Commerce Secretary Tony Copeland said in a statement. “Life science companies understand the many advantages our state offers manufacturers, particularly the investments North Carolina has made in education and workforce training for the biotechnology industry.”

The jobs are expected to be created in 2019 due to the required construction and up-fit of a new production facility. The company has no previously existing jobs in North Carolina, according to the Commerce Department.

AveXis is interested in leasing space in the Research Tri-Center South building, a vacant warehouse at 2500 South Tri-Center Blvd., said Ted Conner, vice president of Economic Development at the Durham Chamber of Commerce. The company plans to invest $55.6 million in construction and improvements in Durham.

Conner called the deal was a big win for Durham. "We are really happy to have AveXis come to our community," he said. "They are obviously coming here because of the talent here for bio-manufacturing."

The announced expansion comes about a week after Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis bought AveXis for $8.7 billion to gain control of the company's rare-disease treatment, AVXS-101, which treats deadly spinal muscular atrophy.

Spinal muscular atrophy, often referred to as SMA, is a rare genetic disease that affects the part of the nervous system that controls voluntary muscle movement and can lead to death in young children.

“We believe the medicine would have a multibillion-dollar peak sales potential,” Novartis Chief Executive Vas Narasimhan told Reuters after the deal was announced.

Narasimhan told Reuters the patient population for SMA was 23,500 people in its established markets.

AveXis' SMA drug is expected to be submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approval in the United States later this year, according to the Reuters report. In order to receive the incentive from North Carolina, AVXS-101 must receive FDA approval.

The FDA has granted AVXS-101 an orphan drug designation, which qualifies the company for tax incentives to tackle rare diseases, and also fast track designation, which allows for drugs treating serious conditions to go through an expedited review process.

AveXis is also developing gene therapy candidates in other rare diseases, Rett Syndrome and inherited amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Durham County will be required to provide a local incentive worth up to $170,000.

AveXis' headquarters will remain in Illinois, a spokesman for the company said. The company also has offices and manufacturing in the Chicago area and a research facility in San Diego.

Earlier this year, Glassware manufacturer Corning announced it would add 428 jobs to its North Carolina workforce, including 317 in Durham County over a three-year period, after the state authorized a $6 million incentive for the company. Durham County also had to chip in $2.7 million for that project.

Zachery Eanes: 919-419-6684, @zeanes

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