What does AstraZeneca's $50M plant investment mean for Brexit? Not a thing

AstraZeneca's small investment in a new packaging line at a cancer drug plant at its site in Macclesfield in the U.K. drew big attention from Brexit watchers.

AstraZeneca is taking the next step at a new plant in the U.K. where it makes Zoladex, spending $50 million on a packaging line for the prostate cancer drug. But the drugmaker's small investment drew big attention from Brexit watchers trying to divine what it means for the politically charged issue. 

Some people took notice when word of the project leaked out at a conference this week because AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot last month had indicated that the British company was putting a hiatus on any significant manufacturing investments in the United Kingdom until there was more light around Brexit and what it would mean for the industry and manufacturing.

A spokesman today explained, however, that the project is just part of a “phased expansion” at the $150 million plant, which officially opened in December at the company’s expansive site in Macclesfield where about 3,000 employees work. 

As for the CEO's stand on future investments in the U.K., well that hasn't changed, the spokesman explained. 

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The biologics plant, which was started in 2013, was primarily needed to boost the production of Zoladex, a 25-year-old injected drug which has been seeing significant sales globally, particularly in Japan, China and Russia.

The drugmaker reaped $816 million in each of the last two years from Zoladex, with about $355 million coming from emerging markets where it saw 6% growth. AstraZeneca this year decided to raise some needed cash by selling off the rights to the drug in the U.S. and Canada where it generates only about $25 million in sales. TerSera Therapeutics agreed to pay AstraZeneca $250 million up front and up to $70 million in milestones for the rights. 

RELATED: AstraZeneca to 'reshape' manufacturing as part of $1.5B cost-cutting effort

AstraZeneca has been reworking its manufacturing network globally after last year instituting a $1.5 billion cost-saving program that included streamlining manufacturing to cut costs. The company has struggled for the last few years after rejecting a $120 billion hostile takeover attempt by Pfizer.

Recently, it has been focused on resolving manufacturing concerns raised by the FDA in two complete response letters about production of a new drug at a ZS Pharma plant in Coppell, Texas. The drug, called ZS 9, is a potential blockbuster treatment for hyperkalemia and was the target of AstraZeneca’s $2.7 billion buyout of ZS Pharma in 2015. But after two preapproval inspections, the FDA has yet to be satisfied with how ZS Pharma is handling the complex production processes, keeping the drug from gaining approval.