We in Massachusetts don’t read as much about Shire Human Genetic Therapies (HGT) as other large biotech organizations headquartered here like Genzyme (NASDAQ:GENZ) and Biogen Idec (NASDAQ:BIIB). Why? Well, for one thing, Shire HGT is a unit of Irish specialty drug company Shire. (The division was formed through Shire’s $1.6 billion acquisition of Cambridge, MA-based biotech firm Transkaryotic Therapies in 2005.) This means the double-digit sales growth of its treatments, such as idursulfase (Elaprase) for Hunter syndrome, can get lost in the companywide reports. So I thought it would be illuminating to have a chat with Sylvie Gregoire, president of Shire HGT.
In a time when many companies are cutting workers, Gregoire has good news to share on growth among her own ranks. Shire HGT revealed in February that it would add 680 workers in the Bay State over the next eight years as part of its plans to invest $394 million to expand its operations in Lexington, MA. Indeed, that growth is well underway with 150-odd workers added in the state since the announcement, giving the firm about 825 employees in the Bay State, Gregoire says. (Taxpayers in the commonwealth have helped support that growth, providing Shire HGT with a $48 million state- and local-aid package for the Lexington expansion.)
Meantime, the HGT unit has become one of the fastest-growing businesses for its parent company, as Shire recently revealed in its third quarter earnings report. Sales of idursulfase, an enzyme-replacement therapy, jumped 42 percent in the third quarter, from $55.1 million in the 2007 period to $78.2 million in the same quarter this year. And sales of agalsidase alfa (Replagal), an enzyme-replacement therapy for Fabry disease, increased by 10 percent from $40.7 million to $44.6 million in the same quarter-to-quarter period. (In September, HGT launched a third product, icatibant (Firazyr), for hereditary angioedema in the U.K. and Germany.) Overall, the genetic therapies business contributed 17 percent to Shire’s $712.5 million in total sales revenue for the most recent third quarter.
I asked Gregoire about the status of the Lexington expansion, the future of the business of treating rare diseases, and more.
X: Why should biotech investors and entrepreneurs be excited about the future of the genetic treatments business in general—not just at Shire?
Gregoire: There are 7,000 rare diseases that have been identified by the NIH—very few of them have a treatment, if you think about it. Less than 12 of those diseases have a treatment that is specific to [them]. Really only enzyme-replacement treatments have been approved, beginning with Cerezyme [Cambridge, MA-based biotech firm Genzyme’s treatment for Gauche disease] about 11 years ago. The beauty of rare diseases is … Next Page »