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OC’s Public Pharmaceutical Cos. Lead Pack

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Orange County’s three most valuable publicly traded drugmaking companies—one still in research mode, another in its first few years of sales, and the other with an established base of operations—are all in expansion mode.

The trio, Tarsus Pharmaceuticals Inc. (Nasdaq: TARS), Evolus Inc. (Nasdaq: EOLS) and Avid Bioservices Inc. (Nasdaq: CDMO), respectively, added nearly 100 new local positions over the past year, according to this week’s Business Journal list of the largest drugmakers.

The trio were standouts in an otherwise lackluster year for area drugmakers. Local employment for the top 10 firms on the list, based both in OC and elsewhere, reported around 2,400 area positions, down .5% from last year.

On a companywide basis, the 10 firms on the list employ about 86,700 in total.

Allergan Cutbacks

OC’s drugmaking industry, long dominated by Botox-maker Allergan, has slumped in its employment count over the past eight years, since the one-time Irvine based firm began cutting positions initially to fend off a takeover attempt from Valeant Pharmaceuticals, and then later after a succession of ownership changes.

The company is now a unit of Chicago’s AbbVie Inc. (NYSE: ABBV), with its aesthetics division based in Irvine, where it employs an estimated 1,200.  

A decade ago, Allergan counted 3,700 local workers, and the area’s top drugmakers employed well over 5,000.

Of Mites and Men

The area drugmaker that expanded its workforce the most by percentage over the past year was Tarsus, whose workforce grew 88% to nearly 50.

The Irvine-based biopharmaceutical company, founded in 2017 and which went public in 2020, is developing treatments for neglected diseases, starting with Demodex blepharitis—an ocular condition in which mites inflame and irritate human eyelids.

Tarsus went public at $16 per share; its stock traded around $19 apiece for a nearly $400 million market cap as of last week. Tarsus last year reported its first revenue ever, $57 million, mostly because of $53 million in license fees. It has overseas licensing agreements for its first drug, TP-03, which it aims to bring to market in the U.S. later this year.

“We are hopeful that we’ll be able to bring a safe and effective treatment forward for FDA review, which may offer a solution to the millions of patients struggling with Demodex blepharitis,” Chief Executive Bobak Azamian said late last month.

Other clinical-stage products in Tarsus’ pipeline could potentially treat Lyme disease and malaria.

Contract Boom

Avid Bioservices Inc. is expanding both its local team—up nearly 30% to over 300 OC workers—and its local manufacturing facilities.

The manufacturer has put tens of millions of dollars into its multiple Tustin facilities along Myford Road, to boost capacity for its contract biologic development work for other pharmaceutical companies.

The growth comes as the company, which saw 2021 revenue increase 61% to $95.9 million, began taking steps to move into the gene therapy sector.

The company late last year said it was committing $75 million for a new 53,000-square-foot viral vector plant in Costa Mesa.

New Neurotoxin 

While Allergan’s local base has shrunk in recent years, another notable neurotoxin-focused  aesthetics firm, Evolus, is heading in the opposite direction.

It expanded its workforce in Newport Beach by more than 33% and increased its companywide employee base 47% to 170 over the past year.

Evolus’ revenue climbed 76% to almost $100 million in 2021, including a 68% jump in the fourth quarter to $34.7 million.

Analysts are estimating sales this year will jump 49% to $148.5 million.

“This product is in its early days of gaining success, yet based on our growth last year, we’re the fastest-growing neurotoxin in the United States right now,” Chief Executive David Moatazedi told the Business Journal last month.

The developer of injectable neurotoxins recently announced plans to expand in the European market—the second-largest market for its products. It’ll have an overseas base near London.

Evolus’ share price at press time was about $11, giving it a $618 million market cap, slightly below its share price of $12 when it went public in 2018. 

Audrey Kemp
Audrey Kemp
Audrey Kemp is a staff reporter and occasional photojournalist for the Orange County Business Journal. Her beats include — but are not limited to — healthcare, startups, and education. While pursuing her bachelors in literary journalism at UC Irvine, she interned for New York-based magazine Narratively Inc., wrote for Costa Mesa-based lifestyle magazine Locale, and covered the underground music scene for two SoCal-based music publications. She is an unwavering defendant of the emdash and the Oxford comma.

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