Merck KGaA's €50M investment in Italy will help it fill biologics demand

Merck KGaA has been investing steadily in its manufacturing operations the last couple of years, and now a fill-finish plant in Italy is slated to get a €50 million infusion as Merck forges ahead in preparation for selling more biologic drugs.

The Germany-based drugmaker said Tuesday that the roughly $68.5 million investment will be made in its Merck Serono plant in Bari, Italy, one of three fill-finish operations the drugmaker has. It also has plants in its headquarters city of Darmstadt as well as one in Aubonne, Switzerland. The new sterile filling operations are expected to be online in 2017.

"To make Merck fit for the future, we are also investing in modern, expanded production capacities in order to meet the rising demand for our drugs," said Merck Chairman Karl-Ludwig Kley, referring to company's Fit for 2018 program of downsizing and reorganizing.

The drugmaker said that more than half of its revenues now come from biotech products. Earlier this month, the company said it expected to put €100 million ($138 million) into biosimilars, which could boost that percentage higher. The company is looking for investments that can help it compensate for declining royalty, license and commission income that is expected to trim about €100 million off the company's top line this year.

The drugmaker is making other investments in manufacturing as well. In December, it announced that its Allergopharma unit will build a new €40 million ($55 million) plant in Reinbek near Hamburg to make allergy meds for China and other emerging markets. That 6,000-square-meter (64,600-square-foot) facility, which is being built at the current Allergopharma complex, is slated to be complete in 2016. A month earlier it said that its Merck Serono unit would build an €80 million ($107.67 million) plant in Shanghai to produce the diabetes drugs Glucophage, Concor and Euthyrox. It will also make drugs for heart and thyroid conditions.

That facility, slated to be ready for production in 2017, will be about 40,000 square meters (431,000 square feet) and have room for a 20,000-square-meter expansion. The company said the facility will be Merck Serono's second largest pharmaceutical manufacturing site in the world. Merck Serono is also the unit around which it is building its biosimilars business.

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