Emerging market demand saves Irish Lipitor plant from closing

A Pfizer ($PFE) plant in Ireland that was slated to close last year is still running strong, as sales of blockbuster cholesterol drug Lipitor remain vibrant in some parts of the world three years after losing its U.S. patent.

In 2013, Pfizer announced that the plant in Little Island, Cork County, would be closed by September 2014 and production moved to a facility in nearby Ringaskiddy. But sales of branded Lipitor in emerging markets have helped offset sales declines elsewhere, Paul Duffy, a Pfizer vice president, told the newspaper. A changed manufacturing process that relies more heavily on water has also played a part, Dave Cagney, a site manager in Ireland, told the Independent.

The API for Pfizer's erectile dysfunction drug, Viagra, is also made at a facility in Cork County, reports the newspaper, and while its sales have not been as robust as those of Lipitor, there are no plans to reduce work at the facility that makes it, execs said.

"On the Lipitor case, it is a very big product expanding globally--especially in China," Duffy told the publication "It's a bit different with Viagra; … we have not seen the same kind of demand." While sales of Viagra may not be growing, it remains a significant product and the Cork plant will continue to make the API, he said.

Drug manufacturers--drawn by attractive tax rates and incentives--are a big part of the Irish economy, and Pfizer is among the largest, so its expansion or layoff plans are closely monitored in the country. Last year it opened a $30 million facility in Ringaskiddy, Cork County, to make more drugs for clinical trials.

Other companies have announced significant infrastructure projects there in the last couple of years. Italian specialty drugmaker Cosmo said in October it would build a manufacturing plant there. Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) said in November it would spend nearly $1 billion to build a biologics plant in Dublin, adding about 400 jobs there. U.S. drugmakers Alexion ($ALXN) and Regeneron ($REGN) also have projects going on in the country.

- read the Independent story