Bluebird Hires New Europe Head as Gene Therapy Rollout Starts

James Paton, Bloomberg

January 15, 2020

Former Celgene executive Heffron to oversee Zynteglo launch

Treatment for rare, severe blood disorder costs $1.8 million

Bluebird Bio Inc. named a new leader for its European operations as the biotech company rolls out a $1.8 million gene therapy for patients afflicted with a severe blood disorder.

Nicola Heffron, a former executive at Celgene and Shire, joins Bluebird just as the drugmaker launches Zynteglo, its first gene therapy, in Europe, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company said in an email. The move follows approval of the novel treatment in that market last year.

Zynteglo has joined Novartis AG’s $2.1 million Zolgensma in the vanguard of one-shot therapies aimed at correcting defects in DNA that cause a range of severe illnesses. While the treatments potentially offer a lifetime of benefits, they come with steep price tags that pose challenges for governments and insurers.

Bluebird’s therapy treats an inherited condition called beta thalassemia that curbs the blood’s capacity to carry oxygen throughout the body and leaves many patients dependent on regular transfusions. Costs for Zynteglo will be spread over five years at 315,000 euros ($351,000) a year. The last four payments will hinge on the drug’s performance — whether it eliminates patients’ need for transfusions.

Bluebird earlier this week said it reached agreements providing coverage for up to half of Germany’s patients. Zynteglo was authorized in Europe for patients 12 years old and older.

Heffron will be based in Switzerland. She’s replacing Andrew Obenshain, who is joining the company’s global leadership team and relocating to Boston.

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