Company: AstraZeneca ($AZN)
Investment: $200 million
Themes: Branded generics and CRO collaboration

In the past few months AstraZeneca has made a flurry of moves in China as it plots a path to long-term growth. The headline-grabbing figure is the $200 million it is stumping up to build a new production plant in Taizhou. It is the most AstraZeneca has ever spent on a single production plant and represents a major signal of intent. Within days of outlining the investment, AstraZeneca reiterated its commitment to China by snapping up local drugmaker Guangdong BeiKang for an undisclosed fee.

Buying Guangdong BeiKang cemented AstraZeneca as the second biggest multinational drugmaker in China behind its rival in the branded generics sector, Pfizer ($PFE). With consumers wary of substandard drugs, Big Pharma has spotted an opportunity in a threat. Now, the branded generics market is attracting almost as much interest as diabetes. And by expanding its portfolio and manufacturing footprint, AstraZeneca is trying to secure its position near the head of the pack. 

"Our new plant in Taizhou, China--which is scheduled to start production in 2014--will produce branded generics, including products acquired with Guangdong BeiKang," a spokesperson for AstraZeneca told FierceBiotech. Anti-infectives, cardiovascular drugs and respiratory products are among the branded generics AstraZeneca plans to manufacture at the Taizhou plant. Some innovator drugs will also be transferred to the plant from an existing AstraZeneca site in Wuxi.

AstraZeneca plans to boost efforts to bring new, innovative drugs to China by hiring 1,000 more people--across R&D, operations and commercial--by 2015. And the in-house R&D hiring push is being supported by closer collaboration with CROs, most notably a risk-sharing deal with WuXi PharmaTech. By joining with WuXi from early in development of a novel anti-inflammatory drug, AstraZeneca hopes to eliminate the lag associated with bringing new treatments to China. AstraZeneca also has an outsourcing deal with Chinese CRO Pharmaron.

Each of the deals reflect the importance AstraZeneca now places on China. "AstraZeneca sees China as a critical part of our future success. We see increasing standards in healthcare as gross domestic product increases, people are living longer and unfortunately, there is also continued unmet medical need, due to a growing prevalence of chronic diseases," the spokesperson said.

For more:
AstraZeneca taps China's Pharmaron to speed R&D
AstraZeneca partners with WuXi for arthritis drug
AZ starts work on record-setting plant in China
AZ's Wuxi site key to Chinese growth plans


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