RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Drug giant Biogen will build a $200 million gene therapy manufacturing center at its campus in RTP and add scores of new jobs as part of the project.

The 175,000-square-foot facility is expected to be operational by 2023 and employ 90 people. Biogen already has some 1,900 employees in the Triangle.

“This additional investment underscores our commitment to RTP and our mission to deliver a reliable supply of high-quality medicines to the patients we serve,” Nicole Murphy, Biogen senior vice president for global manufacturing and technical operations, said in a statement.

North Carolina Commerce Secretary Machelle Sanders hailed the news.

“Biogen represents the caliber of high-impact, innovative companies our state must continue to attract and support to secure good jobs for a strong economy. Not only are they focused on improving people’s lives with breakthrough, best-in-class therapies, but as a former Biogen executive, I can attest to their commitment to serve our communities and contribute to a sustainable, equitable economy,” Sanders said in a statement.

Laura Rowley, director of life sciences economic development for the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, said more companies are expanding into gene therapy.

“It is creating really well-paying jobs and jobs that are likely going to be sustained for some time,” Rowley said.

Biogen credited the Triangle’s “diverse pool of talent” as a major reason the company chose to expand in RTP.

“We are the place to be. Why wouldn’t you come here? We have great educational institutions. We have a great environment and amenities,” said Mike Walden, an economist with North Carolina State University. “We have long been a leader in the tech area – biotech, regular tech – so I think we are going to see more of this as we get through the pandemic.”

Biogen’s $200M expansion is another boost to NC’s growing biopharma sector

Employment in the state’s biotech sector grew by 11 percent last year, despite the pandemic, according to the Biotechnology Center. The sector has an $84 billion annual economic impact on the state, including $2.3 billion in state and local taxes, according to the center’s analysis.

Walden and Henry McKoy, an economist with North Carolina Central University, both predict a strong regional economy for the rest of the year, especially as more people get vaccinated against coronavirus.

“We continue to be, from an economic standpoint, suppressed by the overall pandemic,” McKoy said. “There is pent-up demand for travel. I think there is pent-up demand for people just going out to restaurants and enjoying themselves – going to movies, going for outside entertainment. … Once the pandemic is under control, [that] will be unleashed in some ways.”

“The faster we get people vaccinated, the more confident people are going to be,” Walden agreed. “In terms of public policy, we need to be ready for a massive need to retrain folks quickly.”