Riding GLP-1 wave, Novo Nordisk lays out $560M to boost drug production in China

This year marks Novo Nordisk’s 30th anniversary in China, and it could also be the year the company's red-hot weight loss injection Wegovy (semaglutide) wins approval in the populous East Asian nation that’s increasingly grappling with diseases such as obesity and diabetes.

Now, Novo is returning to its roots with an expansion of the flagship Chinese medicines factory it opened in Tianjin, China, back in 1994.

Novo Nordisk is investing roughly 4 billion yuan (about $556 million) in its Tianjin facility as part of a sterile preparation expansion project, the company said in a Chinese-language release Tuesday. Novo has already broken ground on the project, which it expects to complete in 2027.

The plant build-out will boost production capacity in China to “meet the needs of Chinese patients for innovative drugs,” Novo explained in its release, without naming the specific drugs it plans to make at the souped-up factory.

Novo has plenty of reasons to beef up its Chinese manufacturing capacity. The drugmaker's obesity blockbuster Wegovy is expected to win approval there later this year, Reuters recently reported

Novo’s China launch will initially focus on patients paying out-of-pocket for Wegovy, the news outlet reported, citing Novo’s head of business in China, Christine Zhou Xiaping.

The Danish drugmaker first set up shop in Tianjin back in 1994. Recently, amid a demand boom for the company’s diabetes and weight loss products, Novo in early 2023 invested a separate tranche of 1.18 billion yuan (about $164 million) in the plant to expand its finished product workshop and introduce a pre-filled injection pen production line.

The company’s latest project is set to leverage high-end isolator technology to improve the process for producing sterile drugs, Novo explained in its release.

Aside from its Chinese production plant in Tianjin, Novo Nordisk says it also operates an R&D hub in Beijing. 

Novo Nordisk’s investment in China forms part of the company’s aggressive global manufacturing expansion. In mid-November, the company said it would spend around $6 billion to expand a production campus in Denmark.  

Later that same month, Novo made waves once again when it plotted a $2.3 billion expansion in France. 

Then, earlier this year, Novo Holdings shook up the entire contract manufacturing industry when it moved to buy Catalent for $16.5 billion. As part of the plan, Novo Nordisk is set to buy Catalent fill-finish plants in Italy, Belgium and the U.S. for $11 billion up front. 

Amid the growth spree, Novo Nordisk has catapulted to become Europe’s top company by market value, indicating that the GLP-1 frenzy at the drugmaker is here to stay.