AstraZeneca plows $520M into manufacturing and R&D in France as it slims down elsewhere

British pharma major AstraZeneca is investing more in continental Europe, just as it slims down elsewhere.

AstraZeneca just unveiled a $520 million investment in France across the spectrum of manufacturing and R&D. The announcement came as French President Emmanuel Macron wooed business leaders during the “Choose France” summit amid ongoing turmoil over France's pension system.

“The investment enables us to further build scientific collaborations in France, ensure our global manufacturing site in Dunkirk can continue to meet the evolving needs of the business and accelerate new technologies through a new European Innovation Hub,” AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot said in a statement (French, PDF), as quoted by Bloomberg.

The money is going into three areas and will be spent over five years.

During last year’s “Choose France” event, AZ inaugurated the expanded Dunkirk, France site. The British drugmaker invested €135 million into the expansion, creating an automated production line, increasing the plant’s assembly and packaging lines and doubling its storage capacity through a new automated warehouse.

This time around, AZ reaffirmed its commitment to that site by earmarking an additional $230 million for it. Over the next five years, the company aims to erect a new automated assembly line and two integrated assembly and packaging lines, and to modernize the existing infrastructure, all while adding around 100 jobs.

The Dunkirk site is dedicated to manufacturing inhalers for asthma and COPD. To date, its products are exported to more than 40 countries. AZ said the revamp will allow it to meet rising demand as new products launch and sales grow, especially in China.

RELATED: FDA stonewalls AstraZeneca's COPD triplet Breztri, handing GSK's Trelegy a reprieve

During the first nine months of 2019, AZ’s entire respiratory portfolio grew sales by 13% at constant currencies to reach $3.85 billion. While injectable Fasenra delivered the strongest boost, inhaler Pulmicort also racked up a 23% increase at unchanged foreign exchange rates to $1.05 billion, with the majority coming from China. Even the older Symbicort jumped 18% in emerging markets to $401 million, despite a 4% decline globally.

Meanwhile, AZ is also in the midst of launching its new three-in-one COPD inhaler, Breztri Aerosphere. The drug rolled out in Japan last year and is under review in China and Europe. Regulators in the U.S. recently rejected the drug, though, delaying its hope of challenging GlaxoSmithKline’s Trelegy.

The French manufacturing investment comes less than a year after AZ unveiled plans to cut 94 employees at its plant in Macclesfield, U.K. after an efficiency upgrade that requires less workers for the site. Before that, it said it’s closing two plants in Colorado, one of which was recently picked up by Novartis’ gene therapy unit AveXis.

Outside of manufacturing, AZ said it plans to spend $275 million in R&D to strengthen partnerships with local scientific communities and step up clinical development work in France.

RELATED: Novartis' AveXis buys AstraZeneca site in Colorado as it anticipates gene therapy launch

An additional $15 million will fund a European Innovation Hub in Paris as an accelerator for startups, including those specializing in artificial intelligence.

The news came after AZ teamed up with two French biotechs in oncology in the past year or so. In late 2018, it paid Innate Pharma $170 million up front to license anti-NKG2A antibody monalizumab and secure an option on five other drug prospects. In May 2019, it struck a $10 million-upfront deal to tap Transgene’s oncolytic virus expertise to develop five assets.

In addition, the British drugmaker will start a collaboration to support reforestation of the park of Versailles as part of its commitment to limit its carbon footprint.

All told, the investment will create about 150 jobs, AZ said.