UCB to set up major bioprocessing plant in Switzerland

Belgian biotech UCB says it's investing roughly $335 million in a 20,000-square-meter bioprocessing factory in the Swiss state of Fribourg that is expected to be among the largest in Europe at its planned 2015 opening. By locating there, the company is bucking a recent consensus that Switzerland (and the U.S., for that matter) is too expensive for production activities.

SwissInfo reports UCB plans labs and more than 100 large-scale vats for the facility, which will also become the production home for Cimzia. The drugmaker currently outsources manufacturing of the rheumatoid arthritis treatment.

The site, which is expected to generate 120 to 140 jobs in addition to the existing 200 UCB positions in the small town of Bulle, will rely heavily on automation and will operate continuously, according to the report. UCB employs 8,500 globally.

"We believe it is easier to find qualified people [in Switzerland]. It's a stable country and we get local support," said UCB's Exec VP Michele Antonelli in the report, citing the town's proximity to Lake Geneva region universities. Local support and tax breaks are additional incentives.

The planned facility represents a vote of confidence in Switzerland's--and perhaps even the West's--ability to house economically feasible drug manufacturing operations. Novartis ($NVS) voted with its feet recently by announcing 2,000 job cuts--mainly in Switzerland and the U.S.--balanced by just 700 positions in low-cost India and China.  In response to the Novartis announcement, one economist predicted that high-quality products requiring R&D effort will continue to be made in Switzerland, while high-volume finished products will be made where labor is cheap.

UCB, a discovery and development company as well as a commercial manufacturer, has decided not to honor the economist's production distinction.

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