Over the past few decades, pharma multinationals have been increasingly drawn to the highly cost-competitive markets of Central Eastern Europe (CEE) and Asia to situate major manufacturing sites. However, despite a comparatively expensive location, Belgium’s strong industrial heritage and manufacturing expertise is helping to maintain the country as a strategic production hub for the global pharma industry.
Situated at the heart of Western Europe, Belgium is a major manufacturing and re-export center; exporting EUR 40.7 billion of medicines and vaccines in 2016 and producing EUR 10.7 billion pharma products in 2017 across the country’s 32 production sites according to figures published by Pharma.be.
Furthermore, the latest OECD data shows that Belgium’s manufacturing is still picking up with rising production. As a result, Belgium is one of the fastest movers in terms of industrial manufacturing output when compared to the EU-28 and G20. Major global pharma players that continue to manufacture withing Belgium include:
MSD’s operations in Belgium began in 1965 and span three locations: the subsidiary is based in Sint-Lambrechts-Woluwe near the center of Brussels, the headquarters of the European and Pan-European Policy team is in the European Quarter of Brussels at Schuman, and the company’s Belgian production and distribution plant is at Heist-op-den-Berg, one hour north of Brussels.
The facility at Heist-op-den-Berg is a centre of excellence and one of the largest plants for MSD in the world, manufacturing and packaging innovative medicines that are transported globally for patients in more than 140 countries.
The site was first established in 1972 and employs around 750 people. The facility uses a production methodology derived from the Toyota Production System, manufacturing 160 million packs of medication with a sales value of EUR five billion in 2015. Additionally, the plant is also a European test and release site for centrally registered products.
MSD considers Belgium a strategic and progressive location. According to the company, it has such a significant presence in Belgium thanks to the country’s highly-skilled and highly-educated workforce. Belgium’s strong global reputation in the life sciences can be seen through the fact that the country is the number two destination for clinical trials in the world, and the number one in Europe.
Janssen’s activities in Belgium have a wide reach: with the company present along almost the entire value chain, from R&D to supply chain and commercial to manufacturing. The company employs over 5000 workers locally including 2300 researchers. Each year it invests an impressive EUR 1.5 billion in R&D in Belgium.
Janssen’s operations are divided across six Belgian locations; most notably a corporate campus in Beerse and a chemical production site in Geel, both near the large city of Antwerp. The site produces 60 percent of the total production capacity of APIs within Johnson & Johnson worldwide. The Beerse campus is home to a ‘high-volume’ production plant which utilizes a more efficient and harmonized ‘continuous manufacturing’ technique rather than traditionally slower ‘batch manufacturing’.
The site is also busy with Project LION (Labs-In-One-Network). Announced in 2017, the EUR 42.8 million investment comprises of the construction of a new lab for the company’s Small Molecule Analytical Development & Pharmaceutical Sciences departments and is set to be fully operational this year. Stef Heylen, managing director of the Janssen campus in Belgium, explains that, “this investment is very good news and an important step for the future of our campus. Not only does this new lab offer a great future for the research department, it also strengthens the position of the production departments. The fact that we are able to invest such a large amount here in Beerse also shows the strength of, and the belief in, our campus.”
A further project of Johnson & Johnson is the JLABS, an incubator to nurture early-stage companies actively pursuing research – the first of these European incubators was set up in Belgium.
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