Novartis blueprints $550M Swiss drug plant after layoffs backlash

Novartis ($NVS) CEO Joe Jimenez has a new answer to his critics in Switzerland, where the drug giant's major layoff plans ignited a wave of protests against the company. The Basel-based pharma group is touting plans to pump more than 500 million Swiss francs (nearly $550 million) into a new drugmaking facility in Stein, Switzerland.

Though Novartis didn't mention any new jobs stemming from the plant plans, according to reports, Jimenez was quick to note how the modern facility shows that the company is committed to Switzerland as a key center of its global business. The company's high-paid CEO has been a target for angry workers in Switzerland, particularly those whose jobs are at stake in the planned closure of a plant in Nyon, where Novartis makes over-the-counter products.

The new Stein facility will replace a portion of an existing facility in the northern Switzerland town, where about 1,400 employees work on producing 4.1 billion units of medicine such as tablets and vials that are shipped to more than 150 countries, Dow Jones reported. Plans are to demolish part of the existing Stein plant by 2016, when Novartis proposes to open the new facility.

"This investment is further strengthening the importance of Stein as Manufacturing Center of Excellence for sterile and solid dosage forms and will play a key role in our global production network," Jimenez said, as quoted by Dow Jones. "It also strengthens our presence in Switzerland, which remains a center of key importance for Novartis."

The new plant is expected to enable Novartis to more quickly adjust production of products according to global demand. It appears to be another investment in efficiency as the drugmaker faces lower profit margins this year and generics competition to major sellers such as its blood pressure med Diovan.

ALSO: After European regulators asked for new safety warnings on Novartis' MS pill Gilenya, company pharma chief David Epstein told analysts that the drug is destined for blockbuster status, Dow Jones reported. The European Medicines Agency's request for safety warnings follows cases of heart problems and a death associated with use of the multiple sclerosis drug.

- read Reuters' report about the Swiss plant plans
- and Dow Jones' coverage
- check out the Dow Jones article about Gilenya

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