Novartis plots new $500M plant as biologics pipeline fills

Novartis ($NVS) will pour half a billion dollars into building a biologics manufacturing center in Singapore as its pipeline of drugs fills up with treatments based on biologics. It joins a growing number of drugmakers and contract manufacturers that see drugs based on cell cultures as one of the best bets of the future.

The company said today that work will begin early next year and is slated to be complete by 2016. It will share a campus with a pharmaceutical production facility already there. The Swiss drugmaker says the site in Tuas, Singapore, will be developed into a "technological competence center for both biotechnology and pharmaceutical manufacturing."

"We have chosen Singapore as strategic supply point as it offers a wide range of advantages due to its strong local biomedical presence and knowledge, skilled labor as well as proximity to growth markets in Asia," said Joseph Jimenez, CEO of Novartis.

Jimenez pointed out that Novartis already has the eye drug, Lucentis, in its biologics quiver. Developed with Genentech and Roche ($RHHBY), Novartis holds the rights to it outside the U.S.  It and Roche also sell Xolair (omalizumab), an anti-IgE antibody approved for treating persistent allergic asthma. Both already have reached blockbuster status. Looking forward, Jimenez pointed out that biologics make up a quarter of the drugs the company has under development, and he expects that percentage will grow.

Manufacturing of biologics and biosimilars is one of the most promising areas of drug development and companies are positioning themselves to get a piece of that action. In recent weeks there has been plenty of evidence of this. Chinese CRO WuXi AppTec last week announced the opening of a biologics manufacturing plant in Shanghai that will initially serve a joint venture it has with AstraZeneca ($AZN). The companies are developing an IL-6 inhibitor for treating rheumatoid arthritis that is targeted at the Chinese market. Belgian drugmaker UCB Pharma recently completed a €65 million ($84.8 million) biologics plant in Braine-l'Alleud, Belgium. 

- here's the release