Will North Carolina 'Bathroom Bill' drive pharma away?

By Dan Stanton

- Last updated on GMT

Image: iStock/Zerbor
Image: iStock/Zerbor

Related tags North carolina

Anti-LGBT legislation has prompted Braeburn Pharmaceuticals to reassess plans for a $20m facility in North Carolina, but will others in "the nation’s number one state for biomanufacturing" follow suit?

Last month, privately-owned pharma firm Braeburn announced plans to build an R&D and manufacturing site in Durham County, North Carolina, creating 52 specialist jobs in the state.

At the time​, Governor Pat McCrory welcomed Braeburn as the latest in “a long list of life sciences companies that have made North Carolina the nation’s number one state for biomanufacturing."

However a controversial bill he signed into law just days later, could see Braeburn pull-out of its commitment.

House Bill 2​, or the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act – informally known as the Charlotte bathroom bill – prohibits individuals from using public bathrooms that do not correspond to their biological sex, and has been described as “extreme and discriminatory”​ towards transgender people by civil liberty and LGBT groups​.

“We oppose any legislation that discriminates against the LGBT community and are extremely disappointed with North Carolina’s recent passage of anti-discrimination legislation,”​ Braeburn told in-Pharmatechnologist.com in a statement.

Building a manufacturing and research facility is a business necessity to ensure we fulfill our commitment to patients; we are reevaluating our options based on the recent, unjust legislation.”

Pharma and other industries respond… or not

Other industries have also reacted against the law in a similar vein. Online payments system company PayPal announced yesterday​ that it was shelving plans to build a facility in Charlotte that had been expected to create 400 jobs.

And an open letter calling​ on McCrory to repeal the law has been signed by over 120 business leaders.

Other pharma firms with operations in “the nation’s number one state for biomanufacturing”​ have joined Braeburn and signed the petition – specicially, Pfizer, LabCorp, Biogen and Mallinckroidt.

Similarly, Ned Glascock, a spokesperson from contract research organisation (CRO) PPD, said his firm believes “the diversity, knowledge, skill, integrity and imagination of its employees”​ are essential to meet its customers’ expectations. However, he did not say whether PPD would refrain from further investments in the state.

“As a global company, we value a conducive business climate in North Carolina,”​ he continued. “PPD is committed to continuing our inclusive hiring and employment practices, which do not discriminate based on race, ethnicity, disability, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or any other legal protected basis.”

Others we asked were less forthcoming.

Raleigh-headquartered Patheon did not respond to a request for, while active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) firm Xellia Pharmaceuticals – which relocated its HQ to the city last August​ – said it could not “comment on the NC 'bathroom bill' story at this point.”

Lilly in Indiana

The story echoes the ‘Religious Freedom Restoration Act,’ signed into law in Indiana in March 2015​, which critics said sanctioned discrimination against gay people on religious grounds.

At the time drugmaker Eli Lilly, which employs around 12,000 people in the state, told us the law would impact its ability to attract and retain employees.

“We need people who will help find cures for such devastating diseases as cancer and Alzheimer’s. Many of those individuals won’t want to come to a state with laws that discriminate,”​ said Lilly spokesperson Janice Chavers.

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