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For first time, Buffalo’s Athenex to sell cancer drugs in this country

The Buffalo biotech company Athenex next year will begin selling more than 20 injectable pharmaceutical products in this country as part of a deal with a major Indian drugmaker.

The marketing and supply agreement with Gland Pharma is a significant milestone for Athenex, because it is the first time the company will sell finished drug products anywhere in the world. The rapidly growing company has sold pharmaceutical ingredients to other drugmakers.

“We continue to move forward with our strategy,” Flint D. Besecker, the company’s chief operating officer, said in an interview Wednesday.

Industry leaders have long viewed Athenex as a potential biotech powerhouse for the area. The company, formed in 2003 as Kinex Pharmaceuticals, traces its roots to research conducted by a now-retired University at Buffalo chemistry professor, David Hangauer.

The company raised millions of dollars from local investors in its early years before beginning an ambitious, international expansion, fueled by tens of millions of dollars raised from investors in Asia.

Now named Athenex, the company acquired or made licensing agreements with several small pharmaceutical companies, giving it access to market-ready drug ingredients and drug candidates. Today it has 375 employees in Buffalo, Newstead, New Jersey, Texas, Hong Kong, Taiwan and China.

Athenex in May 2015 reached agreement with New York State to create 1,400 jobs over five years – 700 of its own workers and 700 indirect jobs with suppliers and other companies – at a new corporate headquarters and drug testing laboratory on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and at a drug manufacturing center in the Town of Dunkirk. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo unveiled the deal, and the state’s $225 million commitment, in February.

But since then, funding delays have held up progress on the projects, The Buffalo News reported last week.

In October, the company announced plans to construct two drug manufacturing and distribution plants in China’s Chongqing municipality. The Chinese government’s capital investment in that project is likely to total $200 million, and Athenex will spend $75 million on equipment. One of the plants, an expanded manufacturing site for active pharmaceutical ingredients, is set to open next year.

The delays in New York are not holding up the company’s efforts to expand its portfolio of products, Besecker said, and the agreement with Gland Pharma is a major step in that direction.

Gland will supply the injectable pharmaceuticals – cancer and cancer-related drugs that are taken through an IV or a syringe – that it either makes itself or licenses from other companies, Besecker said.

The injectables all have, or soon will have, U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval, according to Athenex.

The products are related to the drugs Athenex is developing on its own, including oral oncology drugs. Eventually the company will make its own drugs in Dunkirk.

Besecker said marketing and selling finished pharmaceutical products provides a boost in revenue well beyond the money generated from the sale of its active pharmaceutical ingredients.

This activity is taking place under the umbrella of Athenex’s Specialty Products Division, headed by Jeffrey Yordon, a veteran pharmaceutical executive.

Athenex next month will open a commercialization office in Chicago, staffed initially by a team of a dozen employees, to help launch the Gland Pharma-supplied products, Besecker said. The company will hire additional sales and marketing workers elsewhere in the country in the coming months.

The first of the 20 or so products from the partnership should hit the American market in the first quarter next year, he said.

email: swatson@buffnews.com

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