Novartis invests $550 million in flexible, modular processes at new plant

The replacement manufacturing facility Novartis ($NVS) will build in Switzerland is part of a larger expansion project to boost its Manufacturing Center of Excellence in Stein. The company's long-term plan is to build a network of technology centers around the world which provide flexibility, allowing the drug manufacturer to respond quickly to market needs.

Novartis said Monday that it will invest more than 500 million Swiss francs ($550 million) in the facility. Construction will begin in July, and the company expects it to be operational in 2016. It will manufacture "difficult to make" inhalation products and highly active solids. This plant will replace an existing facility which will be partially torn down, and no new jobs are planned there. 

Looking to the future, Novartis says the facility will incorporate a "flexible and modular set-up." The idea is to find ways to quickly change production depending on market demands, in this case in 150 markets globally. Novartis has actually funded research into the new manufacturing processes at the Massachusetts Institutes of Technology.

The company also is investing 125 million Swiss francs in a new data center at Stein, a project which should be completed next year. It also is upgrading a production line for freeze-dried products at a cost of 60 million Swiss francs. That project was launched in September and has a ETA of 2014. The manufacturing facility in Stein is already Novartis' largest. With a workforce of about 1,400, it produces 4.1 billion tablets, capsules, ampoules, prefilled syringes, vials and transdermal therapeutic systems a year.

"This investment is further strengthening the importance of Stein as Manufacturing Center of Excellence for sterile and solid dosage forms and will play a key role in our global production network," Joseph Jimenez (photo), Novartis CEO, says in a statement.

Whether the new facility will actually incorporate new manufacturing methods developed by MIT in continuous manufacturing processes is unclear. A Novartis spokesman did not respond to questions about that point. MIT has actually shipped to Basel a prototype of a plant that consists of 6 connected units which transform raw ingredients into finished drug tablets. The prototype produced tablets of a specific Novartis drug, but the design allows components to be swapped in and out so different drugs can be created.

The semi-positive news came a day ahead of the company's earnings when it reported a 16.6% hit to profits, The Wall Street Journal reports, as it struggles to come up with drugs that will make up for declining sales of its blockbuster Diovan now that it has generic competitors. 

- here is a story by Reuters
- get the MIT news story
- read the Novartis release
- get more from the WSJ story