Novartis expands Swiss plant eyed for closure

After planning to close a drugs plant in Nyon, in the canton of Vaud, pharma giant Novartis has reversed the decision and decided to invest 150 million francs ($159 million) to modernize the site.

Novartis expands Swiss plant eyed for closure
Novartis headquarters in Basel. Photo: Novartis

The company on Thursday announced a 180-degree turn in its plans for the Prangins over-the-counter (OTC) drugs production facility, which it had earlier planned to shut down, with hundreds of layoffs.

Pascal Brenneisen, president of Novartis Switzerland, said investments of 60 million francs over the next three years and a further 90 million francs between now and 2020 would assure the plant's future, while turning it into a “centre of excellence”.

The announcement was made in the presence of Swiss economy minister Johann Schnedier-Ammann and Pierre-Yves Maillard, president of the Vaud cantonal government.

Basel-based Novartis faced large demonstrations from employees when it first announced 18 months ago that it intended to close the plant and lay off 320 people.

But then it negotiated with workers, who agreed to forgo pay increases and to work longer hours, while local governments provided temporary tax breaks.

Novartis said its latest decision goes beyond an earlier announcement to maintain the site.

“First of all, we are respecting our promises to our employees, the canton of Vaud and the Swiss federal authorities by making the Nyon-Prangins site a centre of excellence meeting the highest standards of quality in our OTC division,” Joe Jiminez, Novartis CEO, said in a statement.

“As well, Novartis confirms its commitment to industrial development in Switzerland.”

Jiminez said the over-the counter drugs sector was is in full expansion mode and Novartis expected this to continue worldwide.

The company plans to increase the size of its OTC plant by 30 percent while modernizing the interior of the existing facility.

“It’s really a new plant that is being built,” Brenneisen said.

The plant’s capacity for producing such over the counter drugs as Voltaren (an anti-inflammatory drug) and Otrivin (a nasal decongestant) is set to increase by 70 percent over the next 10 years.

All told, Novartis employs around 780 people at the Nyons-Prangins site, which is up five percent from a year earlier.

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Switzerland’s Novartis to help make Pfizer-BioNTech Covid vaccine

Swiss pharmaceuticals giant Novartis said Friday it had signed an initial agreement to help produce the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against Covid-19, as countries scramble to boost supplies.

Switzerland's Novartis to help make Pfizer-BioNTech Covid vaccine
Novartis will help manufacture Pfizer vaccine. Photo by AFP.

The rare act of cooperation — in an industry usually marked by cut-throat competition — comes after French pharma group Sanofi announced earlier this week that it would also team up with rivals Pfizer and BioNTech to help produce 125 million doses of their jab.

The two-dose vaccine, which is based on mRNA technology, has been shown to be around 95 percent effective and has been approved for use by the World Health Organization and in some 50 countries.

But it is in limited supply as nations around the world race to immunise their populations against the coronavirus, which has killed nearly 2.2 million people in just over a year.

Novartis said in a statement that it would use its sterilised manufacturing facilities at its site in Stein, Switzerland to help produce the Pfizer-BioNTech jabs.

Under the agreement, the company said it would “take bulk mRNA active ingredient from BioNTech and fill this into vials under aseptic conditions for shipment back to BioNTech for their distribution to healthcare system customers around the world”.

Once a final agreement is reached, Novartis said it expected to begin production in the second quarter of the year, with initial shipment of finished product expected in the third quarter.

Steffen Lang, Head of Novartis Technical Operations, stressed that the company was “committed to leverage our manufacturing capabilities to help support the supply of COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics around the world”.

“We expect this to be the first of a number of such agreements,” he said in the statement.

Novartis said it was already in “advanced discussions” with a number of other companies about with other production tasks, including of mRNA, therapeutic protein and raw material production for Covid vaccines and therapeutics.