Novartis adding $500M biologics plant in Singapore

Novartis ($NVS) says it will build a $500 million biologics manufacturing plant along side a traditional drugmaking facility in Singapore and turn the whole operation into one of its "technological competence centers."

The Swiss company said work will begin in early 2013 with the plant to be completed in 2016. It is sharing a site in Tuas, Singapore, with a pharmaceutical plant it already operates there.

"This investment further strengthens our strategy to establish key strategic sites based on technological competencies. Singapore will be strengthened through a new state-of-the-art facility for biotechnology which is a growing segment of our business," Novartis CEO Joseph Jimenez said, pointing out that 25% of the drugs the company has in its pipeline are biologics.

Flexibility will be key to the design; the company has plans that it will be able to handle small production for clinical work as well as commercial scale output of new products. The company says it will plan on manufacturing monoclonal antibodies for autoimmune, respiratory conditions and for cancer treatments. A spokeswoman for Novartis told FiercePharmaManufacturing in a email that the plant would produce "drug substances based on living cells which will then be transferred within our global pharmaceutical network used in manufacturing and packaging of the finished product." It is expected the plant will employ about 250 people when it's up and running, she said.

Jimenez said in a release that Novartis picked Singapore because of "its strong local biomedical presence and knowledge, skilled labor as well as proximity to growth markets in Asia."

Novartis already produces two biologic drugs, Jimenez pointed out: the eye drug Lucentis, and Xolair (omalizumab), an anti-IgE antibody for treating persistent allergic asthma. It shares marketing rights with Roche ($RHHBY) for the drugs, but both are blockbusters.

The company also has significant operations in Singapore. Besides the pharmaceutical plant, Novartis has two plants picked up with the merger last year with eye care specialist Alcon, as well as its Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases (NITD) in Singapore.

Manufacturing of biologics and biosimilars is one of the most promising areas of drug development, and companies are positioning themselves to get a piece of that action. In recent weeks there has been plenty of evidence of this. Chinese CRO WuXi AppTec last week announced the opening of a biologics manufacturing plant in Shanghai that will initially serve a joint venture it has with AstraZeneca ($AZN). The companies are developing an IL-6 inhibitor for treating rheumatoid arthritis that is targeted at the Chinese market. Belgian drugmaker UCB Pharma recently completed a €65 million ($84.8 million) biologics plant in Braine-l'Alleud, Belgium.

- here's the release 

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