Novartis' Alcon opens $160M plant in Singapore

With growing demand for eye drugs in Asia, Novartis' ($NVS) Alcon unit wants to have the capacity to sell into that market. To be able to do that, the company has opened a new plant in Singapore to make a variety of its eye drugs.

It has taken about 5 years to complete and cost $159 million, but the 330,000-square-foot facility is now open in Tuas Biomedical Park, the company said Wednesday. The plant will make ophthalmic pharmaceutical products which treat dry eye, allergies, bacterial infections and glaucoma, which is the leading cause of blindness in Singapore. The company said about 150 people work at the facility now but expects to grow that number as production builds.

Alcon is not new to Singapore. It opened a contact lens manufacturing facility in Tuas Biomedical Park in 2005. "Alcon has more than 20 manufacturing facilities around the world, which use state-of-the-art technology and adhere to the strictest quality standards," Roy Acosta, area president, Alcon Asia-Pacific, said in a statement. "We are proud to transfer those same capabilities to serve our customers … in Asia with locally manufactured products."

Alcon will actually have one fewer plant later this year when it closes one of its Ciba Vision plants in Mississauga, Ontario, because it lacks state-of-the-art manufacturing. The company announced last year that in May it would begin laying off the 300 workers at the Canadian plant and that operations will wind down by the end of the year. The production done there now will be moved to a plant in Texas which has a more efficient process and can absorb the capacity without adding employees.  

Novartis paid nearly $50 billion for Alcon in a three-step buyout several years ago. It was one of the plays in the diversification plan of then-Novartis chief Daniel Vasella. The Swiss drugmaker's new chairman, Joerg Reinhardt, is in the process of unloading some of the units his predecessor bought but intends to keep Alcon. 

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