Anglo-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca has firmly set its sights on Russia, unveiling plans to sink more than $150 million into a new manufacturing plant in the country.

The company has announced that construction of the site - at the Vorsino industrial park in the Kaluga region, which lies southwest of Moscow - is scheduled to begin in the spring, with a view to kicking off medicines production in early 2013.

The plant will churn out 16 million packs of innovative medicines for cardiology, oncology, gastroenterology, neuroscience, respiratory and infections needs every year, AZ said.

According to Nenad Pavletic, President of AstraZeneca Russia, the decision to implement long-term investment projects in Russia was made because the company "is confident in our prospects in Russia under the conditions of the economy’s stable development", and he said the firm will also "invest in R&D to support Russian innovative developments in fundamental science".

The move will come as no great surprise to industry observers, given that other drug giants - such as Novartis and GlaxoSmithKline - have already unveiled plans to start manufacturing drugs in Russia, in strategies designed to cash in on new government plans to curb medicines imports and encourage growth on the domestic side. 

The 2020 Pharmaceutical Development Program aims to ensure that at least 50% of pharmaceuticals sales in Russia originate from home, and prime minister Vladimir Putin has reportedly pledged almost $4 billion to support the domestic pharma industry, prompting foreign companies to try and get their feet through the door.

Putin set a target for the local industry to be producing 90% of the country' essential medicines and for exports to jump eightfold by 2020, and he warned that multinational drugmakers will face restrictions in the country if they fail to develop production and transfer technology there.  

The attraction of the Russian pharmaceutical market is clear; several forecasters are predicting particularly high growth over the next few years, driven by various government initiatives including a new focus on modernising the healthcare system throughout the country, as well as other factors such as well-documented predictions for rising infectious and other chronic diseases.