AZ's Wuxi site key to Chinese growth plans

China--it's one country on every Big Pharma executive's lips these days. We're hearing almost daily about drugmakers' ambitions for the country: Hiring locals (Eli Lilly, Pfizer, Novartis), forging joint ventures (Sanofi-Aventis), planning new-product launches (Bayer), and so on. Today, the company in question is AstraZeneca (NYSE: AZN); the nominal impetus is the impending inauguration of a new packaging facility in Jiangsu province.

The new packaging capacity gives the Telegraph a reason to visit AstraZeneca's Wuxi operations, which turns out almost 4 billion tablets a year to supply 95 percent of the drugs AZ sells in China. As plant manager Sheena Behn tells the newspaper, "There's no point in having a manufacturing site in the West to supply products to China." And not just because of the shipping time from West to East, but also because Chinese officials like products to be made in-country.

With the new receiving-and-packing center, the Telegraph notes, AstraZeneca will funnel drugs to the entire Asia Pacific via Wuxi. And with the expected 30 percent annual growth in Chinese drug spending, the Wuxi plant will have to quicken its pace, Behn says. "We believe totally that in the next five years, we'll be up to 7 or 8 billion [tablets made at the facility]." Will Wuxi also get manufacturing capacity to make IV drugs? Or some other additional functions? There's plenty of space there, Behn says.

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