Singapore fling: AbbVie says a plant in Asia is just what it needs

Humira, the best-selling drug in the world, continues to power the top and bottom lines for the year-old pharma spinoff AbbVie ($ABBV). But the drugmaker has a pipeline of new products it is looking to get approved, and for that it says it needs some more production capacity.

AbbVie has picked Singapore as the location for a $320 million manufacturing plant that will be equipped to handle ingredients for both small-molecule and biologic drugs for oncology and immunology drug candidates currently wending their way through its pipeline. AbbVie said it expects to need 250 new employees to run the plant once it is operational in 2019.

AbbVie's Humira is the best-selling drug in the world--FiercePharma file photo
AbbVie's Humira is the best-selling drug in the world--FiercePharma file photo

AbbVie, which was spun off from Abbott Laboratories ($ABT) at the beginning of last year, currently relies predominantly on sales of Humira. Of the $18.8 billion it reported last week in full-year revenue, $10.7 billion came from the rheumatoid arthritis drug. But Humira goes off patent in 2016, and the drugmaker is working on new products to fill at least some of the enormous revenue gap it will eventually face.

Its most anticipated candidate is an interferon-free hepatitis C product that when used in combo with other drugs is expected to cure up to 90% of patients of the virus. AbbVie plans to submit its drug combo for FDA consideration in the second quarter. Gilead Sciences ($GILD) is developing a combo of its own around the hep C-treating Sovaldi, which won an FDA nod last year. Gilead has said it expects to submit its combo treatment this quarter. Analysts have projected AbbVie's three-drug regimen to generate about $3 billion in peak sales, though a price war with Gilead could stir things up once the two go head-to-head.

There is a logic to putting a new plant in Singapore, the company said. AbbVie already has R&D facilities in Tokyo and Shanghai, China, and 120 employees in Singapore supporting its R&D and commercial operations throughout Asia. But it has no manufacturing there. It said in a statement that a plant in Singapore will not only give it additional capacity but also balance out its supply chain with the dozen plants it has in North America and Europe.

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