Pharmaniaga project in Saudi Arabia stalls but others move forward

A joint venture between Malaysia's Pharmaniaga and Saudi Arabia-based Modern Healthcare Solutions to build a pharma plant in Saudi Arabia appears unlikely to make it to the finish line.

The companies laid out plans two years ago for the 50-50 joint venture called Modern-Pharma to build and operate a pharmaceutical manufacturing plant in Sudair Economic City, Riyadh. Pharmaniaga said the JV would produce drugs for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region as part of its plans to expand its international pharmaceutical business.

But after extending the deal last fall, their agreement again lapsed over the weekend and neither seems eager to move it forward, The Star in Malaysia reports. Pharmaniaga reported to the Bursa Malaysia exchange that "both parties have not determined the new extension date."

Plenty of other deals in the region have made progress, however, as Western drugmakers look for markets where they can achieve higher growth than in developed areas, and MENA countries are trying to lower high drug import costs with local production.

Among them is Humira maker AbbVie ($ABBV), which struck a deal last year with the Arab Company for Pharmaceutical Products (Arabio) to manufacture Humira and other drugs in Saudi Arabia. Pfizer ($PFE) started construction last year of a 32,000-square-meter facility in Rabigh on the western coast of Saudi Arabia, its first in the Gulf. It is slated to begin production this year. Indian generics maker Ranbaxy Laboratories, now owned by Sun Pharmaceutical, has been working on a plant in Morocco as a base for selling in North Africa, while Merck Serono has partnered with United Arab Emirates-based Neopharma, which will manufacture Merck's Type 2 diabetes drug Glucophage as well as its thyroid medicine Euthyrox for sale in the UAE.

- here's the Star story