Pfizer spends $350M on first-ever Asian biotech hub

Despite the problems in China, Pfizer ($PFE) is betting big on its first biotech space in the region, stumping up £$350 million for a new biotech center that it hopes will help tap into the $185 billion China healthcare market and the promise of greater market penetration in Asia.

The U.S. Big Pharma’s new China and Asia biotech base--its first in the region--will focus on biosimilar drugs as well as bio-manufacturing, dovetailing with Pfizer's Hospira biosims unit. 

Housed in the Hangzhou Economic Development Area, the center is set to be completed by 2018 and will be Pfizer’s third biotech center globally and the first on the Asian continent.

The building of the Pfizer Global Biotechnology Center (GBC) also represents further investment in R&D and clinical research across China, according to a statement from the company.

This GBC will include an advanced modular facility by GE Healthcare ($GE), based on single-use bio-manufacturing tech.

“We believe that the Pfizer Global Biotechnology Center in Hangzhou will help support China’s aim to increase the complexity and value of its manufacturing sector by 2025, and contribute to building a truly innovative and vibrant biopharmaceutical industry,” said John Young, group president, Pfizer essential health.

“We are encouraged by a series of important reforms introduced by Chinese government that will further stimulate the industry to meet emerging health challenges, such as the rising incidence of non-communicable diseases and an aging population; as well as attract both domestic and foreign investment in healthcare and R&D.”

China is in a strange place, at once punishing Big Pharma firms for high drug prices but equally attempting to speed up its drug regulatory process, which has been so slow that many of the newest drugs--especially in hep C--have failed to reach the country for years.  

The country wants to nurture homegrown drugmakers and biotechs, but will also need to help established foreign companies set up shop in the region to gain access to the latest innovations. The country is undergoing reform to help speed up access to these meds.

At the same time, however, China just last month launched an investigation into all aspects of drug and medical device sales and prices among domestic and foreign firms in a step that could lead to enforcement action.

Unfazed, Pfizer said that its center aims to “support China’s healthcare reforms, assist the Chinese government in its continuing efforts to update the local industry in this sector, and provide world-class biological medicines for patients in China and the world.”

This comes after Novartis ($NVS) announced the opening of a $1 billion research center in China, with a focus on lung, liver and gastric cancers.

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