UCB looks to its presence in Africa, the Middle East and Asia
UCB has acted in recent weeks to boost its presence in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. The firm signed an exclusive partnership agreement on 21st November with NewBridge Pharmaceuticals, under which certain of UCB's core CNS products will be made available in several unnamed Middle Eastern and African countries. Under the agreement, NewBridge has acquired the rights to three products: Cimzia (certolizumab pegol); Vimpat (lacosamide); and Neupro (rotigotine transdermal system). NewBridge will also be responsible for managing the local regulatory approval process, future commercialisation and pharmacovigilance in each of the relevant countries.
With regard to lacosamide, two days before this announcement, UCB reportedly commenced a new Phase III trial in Japan and China, designed to investigate the efficacy and safety of the drug as adjunctive therapy in adult patients with partial onset seizures. Initial results from the study are expected in the first half of 2015. In the study, lacosamide will be evaluated in around 540 adult patients in Japan and China. The drug is not currently approved in either country for the treatment of epilepsy, but has been used in the EU since gaining approval in 2008 as adjunctive therapy for the treatment of partial onset seizures, with or without secondary generalisation. In the US, lacosamide tablets and injection were launched in May 2009, with an oral solution subsequently being launched in June 2010. Both China and Japan can be considered to be significant markets, so new indications here could prove to be financially lucrative for UCB.
UCB operates in around 40 countries across the world. However, the Middle East, Africa and Asia are relatively untapped markets for it. Based in Belgium, the firm has a concentrated presence in Europe, along with the US and Canada. Outside of these developed Western markets, UCB currently does not have a great presence. With regard to Africa and the Middle East, the firm only has a representative office in Egypt. In Asia, UCB has a presence in Japan, again unsurprisingly given Japan's importance as a pharmaceutical market. The firm also has a presence in China, South Korea, Kazakhstan and India.
However, on 23rd November, UCB reported that Exemed Pharmaceuticals was to acquire UCB's Indian production facility in Vapi. The deal includes a multi-year supply agreement between UCB and Exemed, and the transfer of UCB Vapi's members of staff to Exemed. The firm's Vapi plant currently focuses on the production, packaging and distribution of some of UCB's mature drugs. It produces around 2 per cent of total UCB volumes and produces for the markets of India, Bangladesh, South Korea, Switzerland and Belgium. UCB commented that the transaction did not impact its financial guidance for 2012.
The Vapi plant employs some 80 members of staff. However, UCB lists over 450 employees in India, in locations including Mumbai and Bengaluru; the Vapi plant thus accounts for around 18 per cent of the firm's employees in the country. UCB commented that the Vapi agreement was in line with its strategy to focus on bringing new innovative drugs to patients and less on mass manufacturing, for which the firm increasingly relies on a network of partners. This is an interesting shift from a well-established trend in recent years for Western-based pharmaceutical firms to develop manufacturing facilities in countries such as India, where firms can take advantage of lower costs. As an aside, the move is an interesting one for Exemed as well. The company describes itself as a new venture initiated by a business group that has been involved in manufacturing drug intermediates and specialty chemicals for over three decades. Currently, the firm only markets metformin products.