Major Singapore investment for Novartis

By Anna Lewcock

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Biotechnology Pharmaceutical industry Novartis

Swiss pharma Novartis today announced the largest manufacturing investment in its history, revealing plans for a $700m (€486.5m) biotech facility to be built alongside its new solid dose plant in the low cost, high quality biopharma hub of Singapore.

The announcement came at the inauguration of Novartis' new tabletting plant on the Tuas Biomedical Park in Singapore, with plans for the new large-scale cell culture facility reflecting the growing prominence of biologics in Novartis' pipeline. 

Construction on the new facility is expected to begin early next year, with the plant due to be operational by 2012 following regulatory approvals.  

The new cell culture facility will support clinical and commercial production of potential new biopharmaceutical therapies, primarily monoclonal antibodies, for indications such as rheumatoid arthritis, oncology, asthma and spinal chord injury. 

With the $700m investment representing the largest sum Novartis has ever splashed out on a manufacturing facility, it is clear that the company foresees a significant role for biologics in its future.

Biologics currently comprise 25 per cent of the company's pre-clinical research pipeline, and according to the company are "increasingly a priority in research and development activities."​ 

With the firm's recent third quarter results​ revealing the impact generic competition is having on the company coffers, it is unsurprising that Novartis is following the trend of many pharma firms and investing in the burgeoning biopharma field to try and reap the rewards the sector seems to promise. 

As part of this effort, the Swiss firm is also establishing its biologics division as a separate, focused unit, in order to "accelerate and optimise the potential of research and development of innovative biologic medicines."​ 

Singapore is proving an attractive destination for pharma firms thanks to schemes by the country's Government to create an appealing business environment for the biomedical sciences. 

In addition to the new $180m tabletting facility that the company officially inaugurated earlier today, Novartis currently has its Asia-Pacific Headquarters located in the country, along with the Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases and a production facility for its subsidiary, CIBA Vision. 

With the announcement of the intended biotech facility, Novartis will now also be the source of the fifth biologics manufacturing investment Singapore has managed to attract within two years. 

Biopharmaceuticals are indeed driving the growth in the region's manufacturing base, with heavyweights GlaxoSmithKline, Genentech, Abbott and Lonza all taking advantage of the region's business benefits. 

While many pharma firms​ have announced plans to streamline, restructure and refocus over the course of this year, cutting sales, marketing or production jobs and facilities, R&D has borne less of the brunt of these moves with several companies emphasising the role new biopharmaceutical products are likely to play in the future of their businesses. 

Novartis itself announced a restructuring effort (including a 1,260 reduction in headcount) less than two weeks ago, an initiative to try and save $230m by 2008 and mitigate some of the damage caused by the encroaching generic onslaught. 

With the new biologics capacity the company is now due to have online by the end of 2012, Novartis can hope that some of those early stage biopharmaceuticals coming out of its R&D efforts will prove fruitful, and provide another layer of protection against the pharma industry's increasingly harsh environment.

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