Amgen has unveiled a massive new investment programme, headed by a $1 billion manufacturing facility in Ireland and expanded R&D facilities in the USA and UK, that is designed to bring its pipeline products through to market more quickly.

The new facility in Cork will provide bulk manufacturing and fill and finish operations for Amgen’s products in Europe, and is due to start operating in 2009. Meanwhile, Amgen’s production plants in North American, already bolstered by $3 billion investments since 2001, will be joined by another facility in Puerto Rico, making its red cell stimulating products Epogen (epoetin alfa) and Aranesp (darbepoetin alfa).

On the R&D side, there will be expansion of its facilities in the USA and Europe, with the UK selected as the site for Amgen’s European Development Centre, which will orchestrate European clinical development projects right across the firm’s pipeline. This will comprise a new facility in Uxbridge than can accommodate up to 300 staff and a new building at Amgen’s existing site in Cambridge.

Dr Jeremy Haigh, Amgen’s European head of R&D, told PharmaTimes News Online: “This investment programme is driven by our pipeline, which is really strong…with 50 projects in development. It’s about delivering that pipeline to patients around the world.”

At a time when there has been a growing trend to site new facilities in Asia and other lower-cost areas of the world, Amgen has plumped for the UK, in part because the company has a 15-year history in the country, but also because of the UK’s strong traditions in the biosciences and access to experienced staff. And the fact that Uxbridge is close to Heathrow airport is important for a company headquartered on the West Coast of the USA, said Haigh.

The new facility at Uxbridge has been completed and will represent an investment of around £100 million ($179m) over 10 years, with the Cambridge expansion ‘a little less than that,’ according to Haigh. For the R&D group in the UK, staffing levels will rise from around 250 to 350 over the course of 2006.

In the USA, money will be spent on boosting Amgen’s facilities in Cambridge, Seattle and San Francisco, with further expansions in Japan, Australia and Canada on the cards.

Amgen’s faith in its pipeline is backed up by a recent report by Datamonitor, which said the company was likely to be the only one among the top 20 biotech/pharmaceutical majors to post double-digit growth between 2005 and 2011, helped by strong in-house R&D and a canny licensing strategy.

The near-term pipeline includes five products in Phase III testing, including two - panitumumab for colorectal cancer and denosumab for osteoporosis - that have enormous commercial potential, according to analysts.