05 Nov 2006   |   News

Novartis joins the rush to China

This time it is a major drugs company that is setting up its fume cupboards in China.

If things continue at this pace, it will soon be easier to list the companies that do not have an R&D presence in China. Today's news is that "Novartis creates new strategic biomedical R&D center in Shanghai".
The company says that it will build "an integrated biomedical Research & Development center in Shanghai's Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park that will become an integral part of the Group's global research and development network".
With their huge budgets and massive corporate labs, pharmaceuticals businesses aren't like the rest of the R&D world. They think bigger.
Novartis plans to invest US$100 million in the design and construction of two facilities. The company expects to open "start-up" labs next May, with a work on a permanent "38,000 square meter facility for approximately 400 scientists" beginning in July 2007.
The work will "initially focus on addressing urgent medical needs in China" particularly infectious causes of cancer endemic to the region.
Novartis's Chinese operation will be "the eighth site within Novartis Research and Development network," according to the announcement. In Asia the company already has labs in Japan and Singapore.
The plan for Shanghai is to recruit locally, from the region's "emerging cluster of innovative academic, biotech and pharmaceuticals research institutions". Novartis already has a cluster of links with Chinese research institutes, including a six-year research partnership with the Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica "to identify and test traditional medicines for pharmacological properties".
All eyes are on Shanghai these days. The place is, according to Dr Mark Fishman, President of the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research, "clearly emerging as a new epicenter of science globally, and is a magnet for the best and the brightest investigators. It is a perfect location for exploring novel scientific approaches for the discovery of new medicines that will ultimately benefit patients in China and around the world."
The quotes attributed to Dr Daniel Vasella Chairman and CEO of Novartis spell out the underlying motivation. "The level of scientific expertise in China is rising rapidly. At the same time, the healthcare needs of the Chinese are growing, primarily the result of urbanization, lifestyle changes and associated chronic diseases," he said.
Believers in traditional medicines will see some encouragement in Dr Vasella's statement that "The Shanghai center will allow us to combine modern drug discovery approaches with those of traditional Chinese medicine that have been used to treat patients in China for thousands of years."
Novartis is not new to China. It boasts of roots going back to the late 1930s. Earlier this year the company began construction of a US$83 million development and production plant in Changshu, Jiangsu Province.

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