Novo Nordisk is looking to meet growing demand in Asia for its diabetes treatments by building a new insulin production plant in China.

The Danish drugmaker is investing almost $400 million into the facility in Tiajin, which will become its primary production base in the Asia Pacific region and will supply both China and export markets. Some 500 jobs will be created by the investment, the largest outside Denmark.

Chief executive Lars Rebien Sorensen said it will become “the world’s most modern insulin formulation and filling plant and is yet another example of the increasingly important role China is playing” in Novo’s global operations. President of the firm’s Chinese unit, Ronald Christie, said that with the new facility, which is being built alongside Novo’s existing plant in Tiajin, and an R&D centre in Beijing, “we will have an even stronger platform for changing diabetes in China”.

Nearly 40 million people in China are estimated to have diabetes, the second-highest number after India and Novo notes that an ageing population “and the adoption of western lifestyles with too little exercise and diets high in saturated fat mean that the problem will get worse”. A “clear sign is that 64 million Chinese have impaired glucose tolerance, or prediabetes,” the firm added.

Construction alone is expected to take close to two years and the plant is scheduled to be operational in 2012.