Gilead discloses China manufacturing plans on a recruitment website

Gilead says it is building its first manufacturing facility outside of the U.S. in China, a fact it has disclosed only on a website for recruiting talent to its China venture.

Gilead Sciences hired a former Roche exec last fall to help it launch its hep C and hep B drugs in China, a market with big potential. Those plans now appear to include building a manufacturing facility there, its first outside of the U.S., although the company has not formally announced anything and declined to comment.

But Gilead tipped its hand this week via Twitter. A tweet to recruit workers for its China efforts included a link to this site that talked about its hepatitis and HIV treatments and mentioned the production plans.

“Today, we have a regulatory team in Beijing and a Chemical Manufacturing Outsourcing group at the Hongqiao Business Center in Shanghai. Gilead is constructing a new manufacturing site in the Hangzhou Economic Development Area. This will be the first manufacturing site constructed by Gilead outside of the U.S. and it has the potential to grow in the future,” read the info, which is in both English and Chinese.  

Gilead China website

But that is as far as Gilead will go in terms of outlining its plans. Sonia Choi, who heads global product communications and Public Affairs in Asia would say only, “We have no further information to share on the planned facility at this time.”

While sales of Gilead’s hepatitis treatments have fallen off markedly in recent quarters, China is one very large market that the Foster City, California-based company has yet to tap. It also is an emerging market that it reserved for itself.

RELATED: With hep C sales crashing, Gilead CEO Milligan concedes M&A is vital for growth

Facing intense criticism for its initial $1,000 a pill price when it first launched hep C cure Sovaldi, Gilead made cheap versions of that drug and the combo pill Harvoni available in about 80 developing countries through a licensing agreement with low-cost generics makers. But Gilead carved China out of the deal.

There have been periodic reports that it was negotiating prices for the drugs, but no launch dates have emerged. Then, last fall, it was reported that Gilead had hired former Roche Shanghai vice president Rogers Luo to help it launch both hep C and hep B drugs "over the next few years" there.  

In its fourth-quarter 2016 earnings call, executives said only that Gilead was “thinking about a small build-out in China for the private market,” something that really would be a 2018 and beyond effect.

RELATED: Merck opens China manufacturing plant, will invest an additional $88M nearby

Many drugmakers, like Pfizer, Merck & Co., Merck KGaA, Johnson & Johnson and others, have manufacturing facilities in China, generally spending hundreds of millions of dollars to erect them. Pfizer last year said it was having GE build it a $350 million modular manufacturing facility where it would make biosimilars.