Biogen Inc. will stop producing drugs at its Cambridge plant by year-end, a move that could idle up to 285 workers as the company consolidates its worldwide manufacturing.
The state's largest biotech company is seeking to sublease its bioprocessing operation in a building at its headquarters and research campus in Kendall Square. "We are talking to a number of interested parties," spokesman Jason Glashow said Thursday.
If another tenant can't be found, Biogen plans to shut the 66,000-square-foot plant — its oldest and smallest manufacturing site — that makes drugs to treat multiple sclerosis and hemophilia. The work will be moved to larger sites in North Carolina and Europe.
Some manufacturing employees in Cambridge may be offered jobs at Biogen's production site in Durham, N.C., while others could find work at another biotech firm that picks up the lease. But Biogen, which cut 400 jobs in Massachusetts as part of a restructuring last fall, will continue to reduce its local head count. The company now employs about 2,900 in Cambridge and Weston, and a total of about 7,000 worldwide.
"We've made a decision to end Cambridge manufacturing operations as part of a look at our overall manufacturing activities," Glashow said. "This does not reflect a lack of commitment to Cambridge or to our work here. This is about manufacturing efficiency."
Biogen has suffered a series of setbacks over the past year. Last week, it disclosed that its first drug to repair nerve damage in MS patients failed to hit its primary goal in a clinical trial. Slower sales growth and disappointing results in another MS clinical study last year promped the company to cut about 880 jobs, including the 400 in its home state.
The plant in Cambridge makes two multiple sclerosis drugs, Avonex and Plegridy, and the hemophilia A treatment Eloctate, in 2,000-liter tanks known as bioreactors. Biogen's complex in North Carolina's Research Triangle Park has both 2,000-liter and 15,000-liter reactors, enabling the company to produce drugs for commercial sales and clinical trials at a larger scale.
Biogen last summer said it plans to invest $1 billion in a new manufacturing plant in Luterbach, Switzerland, near Zurich, tripling its global capacity to make the large protein-based medicines called biologics that are the hallmark of the biotech industry. The company also operates another European bioprocessing plant in Hillerod, Denmark. Many of its therapies are produced at more than one facility to assure backup in case of disruption.
"Cambridge is a small facility, and we've got a lot better at manufacturing biologics at a larger scale," Glashow said. "We're optimizing the network that we have. As we've become increasingly efficient with our [15,000-liter] facilities, we've concluded that we'll be able to meet anticipated demand for [2,000-liter] manufacturing in a single facility."
Biogen's plant in Cambridge has a total capacity of about 10,000 liters, a relatively small share of the company's overall manufacturing capacity of 196,000 liters.