Surging Alexion plots a $500M splash in Ireland

Alexion EVP Julie O'Neill

Rare disease biotech Alexion ($ALXN) is blueprinting a major expansion in Ireland, planning to spend €450 million ($500 million) and hire 200 workers over four years as it forecasts a bright future for its business model.

The drugmaker, headquartered in Cheshire, CT, is planning to construct its first overseas biologics manufacturing operation in Blanchardstown, a Dublin suburb, expanding its presence in the country. Alexion first made its way into Ireland back in 2013 and has since spent nearly $150 million on labs in Athlone and College Park.

Alexion's big splash is a further testament to the company's optimism about the future of rare disease R&D. Alexion makes Soliris, the most expensive drug in the world, and believes it can continue to build a successful enterprise on the strength of such ultra-orphan treatments--and its ability to charge top dollar for them. With that in mind, the biotech inked a deal to buy fellow rare disease specialist Synageva ($GEVA) for $8.4 billion earlier this month, getting its hands on the late-stage Kanuma to pad its pipeline of orphan products.

Now Alexion wants to build the infrastructure it'll need to maintain its pace of growth, and that's where its growing Irish presence will prove invaluable, Executive Vice President Julie O'Neill said.

"We are already serving the very few patients in Ireland suffering from two very rare and devastating diseases; with this major expansion, our Irish operations, comprising biologics manufacturing, vial fill-finish and global supply chain, will be at the forefront of this vital work globally," O'Neill said in a statement.

Beyond its focus on near-term commercial work, Alexion has long been splashing cash to build out its early-stage pipeline. Over the past 18 months, the company has paired up with Blueprint Medicines ($BPMC) to develop kinase inhibitors invested in muscular dystrophy biotech Prothelia and recruited X-Chem for some discovery work.

- read the statement