Novartis injects biotech into the world’s biggest eye drop plant in Flanders

Few companies innovate the way Novartis does. Last year alone, the Swiss pharmaceutical frontrunner channeled a staggering USD 9 billion into research and development (R&D). Headquartered in Basel, the company counts on 123,000+ scientists, physicians and business professionals around the globe to pave the way for breakthrough medicines and therapies. In Flanders, Novartis has big plans for its production base in Puurs, turning it into a biotechnological base that only adds to the company’s innovative force.

Novartis - born from the merger of Sandoz and Ciba-Geigy, which were already well-established in Belgium as a whole -has been present in the Flanders region since 2010.

That’s when the Swiss pharma player acquired American eye care specialist Alcon - along with its facilities in Puurs, Flanders - for a whopping USD 12.9 billion. Over the years, the Puurs-based site has grown into the world’s largest facility for the production and distribution of eye drops and viscoelastics, a set of components designed to protect eye tissues during surgery.

In facts and figures

  • Parent company: Novartis
  • HQ: Basel, Switzerland
  • Belgian HQ: Vilvoorde
  • Annual turnover: USD 48.5 billion
  • Present in Flanders since: 2010
  • Subsidiary in Flanders: Alcon Puurs (operational since 1977)
  • Number of employees in Flanders: > 1,500 -
  • Website: www.novartis.com

Biotech advances of impeccable quality

Between 2014 and 2018, Novartis has funneled an impressive EUR 100 million into its operations in Puurs, Flanders. The aim? To construct a state-of-the-art biotechnological filling line, along with an analytical laboratory. Every year, the new line can fill up to 18 million syringes with some of the most advanced medicines on the planet. Meanwhile, the laboratory intensifies the quality control procedure at the facility even further, checking up to 250 million units per year.

“We use the new line to produce biotechnological medication for the treatment of illnesses and conditions such as arthritis, psoriasis and macular degeneration, the main cause of partial blindness in the elderly,” explains Koen Strobbe, General Manager at Novartis’ site in Puurs.

“The analytical laboratory ensures the production conforms to the most stringent quality and safety standards,” adds Philippe de Pougnadoresse, Country President of Novartis in Belgium and Luxembourg. “In fact, standards are so high that the Puurs site is one of the few pharma players that can export to Japan—a country with extremely strict legislation—without the need for additional control mechanisms.”

The new filling line and the laboratory have been operational since September 2017. Both were officially inaugurated one month later. This was done in the presence of—among other government officials—Flanders’ Minister for Innovation, Work and Economy, Philippe Muyters.

Novartis and Flanders

Through the major capital injections of the past four years, Novartis’ site in Puurs has become an even more crucial link in the company’s operations. The Flanders-based facility employs more than 1,500 people and plans to hire another 70 employees throughout 2018. Together, they are the driving force behind the production and shipment of over 2,780 different types of (eye) care products to about 155 countries around the globe—making the Puurs site the global leader in its industry.

“To give just one example that highlights our success: 39% of all cataract surgeries performed in Europe, the Middle East and Africa rely on surgical packages made in Puurs,” Koen Strobbe points out. “What’s more, in the 40 years since our establishment in Flanders, we have produced an impressive 3.8 billion packages of eye drops and ophthalmic ointments.”

“With the recent investment in a new filling line and analytical laboratory, Novartis acknowledges the knowhow and expertise that has been accumulated at the Flanders-based site,” Koen Strobbe adds. “I’m confident that, by turning Puurs into a leading biotech hub, we are looking at a whole new record of achievements in the near future.”

Koen Strobbe, General Manager, Alcon Novartis Belgium

Koen Strobbe (left), General Manager, Alcon Novartis Belgium