Celltrion and Samsung duel shaping up as both pledge billions of dollars to biologics   

A biologics arms race of sorts appears to be shaping up in South Korea. Celltrion Chairman Seo Jung-jin said on Thursday that the conglomerate will spend about $33.6 billion on its pharma business over the next decade. The pledge comes just months after competitor Samsung said it will spend $22 billion in much the same way.

Celltrion's 40 trillion won outlay will include investments in its biologics operations, ingredient business and artificial intelligence to create an e-commerce market for its drugs, Seo said in a speech reported by the Korea Herald. It says it will hire 10,000 more workers to make it happen.

Celltrion, which already has a biosimilar of Roche’s cancer drug Rituxan approved in the U.S., plans to develop 20 second-generation biosimilars over the decade, Seo said. The company, which currently partners with Pfizer’s Hospira and Teva on some of those projects, expects to sell directly in Europe this year, in Asia and South America by 2020, and in the U.S. and Canada by 2021.

While light on details, the newspaper reports that the company plans to spend about $4.1 billion to expand its biologics site in Songdo to have the capacity to annually produce 1 million liters of biopharma ingredients and 100 million vials of final products. It says it will invest about $835 million to expand small molecule plants to annually produce 10 billion tablets. The 10,000 employees it intends to add include 2,000 scientists and other experts and 8,000 workers for its expanded plants.

Celltrion’s efforts have not been without difficulties. An FDA warning letter last year for its plant in Incheon delayed approval of its Rituxan biosimilar and put Teva’s new migraine drug, Ajovy, at risk. It resolved the issues and both were approved.

RELATED: Out of the FDA doghouse, Celltrion again seeks Rituxan biosimilar nod

The plans sound similar to those announced in August by its South Korean competitor. Samsung said it will invest $22 billion across business lines in the next few years that it said will propel its growth in the future, including biopharmaceuticals, along with artificial intelligence and auto electronics.

Its Samsung BioLogics unit established its CDMO and biosimilars business quickly after Samsung decided it was a viable extension of its chemicals business. It has pledged to become the top biologics contract manufacturer in the world and has already invested $2.6 billion into three plants, creating a manufacturing operation with a capacity of 362,000 liters. It has a joint venture with Biogen to develop biosimilars, as well as doing contract work for others.