AstraZeneca is setting up a hi-tech "predictive science centre" in St Petersburg, saying the move is the latest in a bid to become a major force in Russia.

The new facility will "leverage local scientific talent and focus on developing bioinformatics, data analysis methods, software and systems" to better predict the safety and efficacy of new AstraZeneca drugs. Some 30 people will work there through collaborations with local companies and organisations as part of an agreement with the St Petersburg government.

The St Petersburg deal comes a few months after the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker began construction of a new $150 million manufacturing facility in the Kaluga region. It has also established "several partnerships with Russian development institutes", including the Skolkovo Innovation Centre and Russia Venture Company.

AstraZeneca noted that it plans to make a "significant contribution to the Russian economy of $1.2 billion over the next five years", and it supports the government’s strategy "to modernise and develop the country’s pharmaceutical sector". Speaking at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum, chief executive David Brennan, noted that Russia is "a dynamic economy where our growing investments will help us to offer to patients AstraZeneca’s portfolio of innovative medicines".

He told the Wall Street Journal that "this is one of the key markets for us globally that we've decided to invest in. We're not doing this everywhere". He went on to say that "the Russian government has been pretty clear that they would like more direct investment from the pharma industry specifically".

Mr Brennan added that "the government's reaction to our investment in the manufacturing facility was extremely positive. This will be in addition to that and I think it demonstrates our continued commitment to investing here in Russia. This is yet another step, and I imagine there will be others".

AstraZeneca has some 1,000 employees across 68 cities in Russia and sells 40 drugs there. Aside from R&D, "we've increased the size of our marketing and sales organisation to be as competitive as we can be, we're looking at different ways of operating here", the CEO said. "This is an enormous market geographically so we're looking carefully at how we reach out to the more remote areas of the country".