Glaxo's U.K. plant keeps inhaler production in-country

GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) has been laying off workers by the hundreds over the past several years, just like its Big Pharma rivals. The British press hasn't let national pride get in the way of thumping the U.K.-based company for those job cuts, either. But in a take-out on Glaxo's respiratory-drug plant in Ware, England, the Independent points out that without those "efficiencies," the company might not be able to afford to produce drugs in its home country.

The Ware plant is heavily automated these days, and its workforce has been cut in half from pre-2010 levels. Only 6 men are working on four assembly lines when the Independent visits, helping to turn out 220,000 inhalers a day. Moving that production to lower-cost countries such as China would be too costly, not to mention risky, GSK's Jo Barrett told the newspaper.

"It would involve massive technology costs plus huge training, whilst here we have easy access to Europe and good logistics to overseas markets," said Barrett, the Ware plant's respiratory product stream director. In fact, some 95% of the Seretide inhalers made in Ware were exported, many to China and India.

It helps that the drugs GSK turns out in Ware aren't facing generic competition. As the Independent points out, the Seretide patent ran out in several countries already, but replicating production is tough, so the product is maintaining billions in sales every year. The plant is also gearing up for Relovair, an intended successor to Glaxo's Advair product, working with R&D staff nearby.

- read the Independent story

Special Report: Top 10 pharma layoffs of 2011