Malaysia's Pharmaniaga slates drug plant in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is drawing yet more interest from companies that see potential from manufacturing drugs there. This time, instead of a Western drugmaker looking to tap an emerging market, an Indonesian company is teaming with a local healthcare operator to build a drug manufacturing plant.

According to theSundaily, the Malaysian company Pharmaniaga and Saudi Arabia-based Modern Healthcare Solutions have created a 50-50 joint venture called Modern-Pharma to build and operate a pharmaceutical manufacturing plant in Sudair Economic City, Riyadh. The announcement does not provide details on when it will be built or how much is being invested. A statement from drugmaker Pharmaniaga says the JV will produce drugs for the "rapidly growing" Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region as part of a plan to expand its "international pharmaceutical business."

Saudi Arabia and MENA have become one of the hot new markets for drug manufacturing. Pfizer ($PFE) kicked off construction in March of a 32,000-square-meter facility in Rabigh on the western coast of Saudi Arabia, its first in the Gulf. The plant will make a number of Pfizer drugs, and production, which is slated to begin in 2015, is targeted to hit 18 million packs per year.

Pfizer is not the only drugmaker banking on the upside potential in the MENA region. Indian generics maker Ranbaxy Laboratories is building a plant in Morocco as a base for selling in North Africa. Merck Serono recently 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. Jordan-based Hikma Pharmaceuticals ($HIK) last year noted it had suffered from the uprisings that have roiled the area since late 2010 but still planned to invest $300 million in the region. It said annual market growth should be about 12%, compared to the 2% forecast for Europe.

- read the Sundaily story