Israel's Teva Pharmaceutical Industries has linked up with Lonza of Switzerland to set up a joint venture that will develop, manufacture and market a portfolio of biosimilars.

The JV is expected to commence activities during the first quarter, subject to the receipt of any applicable regulatory approvals. Financial details of the agreement are not being disclosed.

Shlomo Yanai, Teva's chief executive, said that “we had identified biosimilars as a major growth driver…and have been augmenting our knowledge base, capabilities and infrastructure” to position the firm as a leader in this market. Noting that the partnership “bolsters our biologics capabilities”, he added that Lonza is an ideal partner “with its deep knowledge and experience in biopharmaceutical development, large-scale manufacturing” and state-of-the-art facilities.

His counterpart at Lonza, Stefan Borgas, said “we are confident that our capabilities in the area of biologics manufacturing will add value to this JV”. He added that the agreement also ensures that “we will be able to continue to fully support the development of new technology and business of our existing innovator customers”.

The biosimilar market is expected to become a lucrative area, especially if a regulatory pathway in the USA for approving such drugs is finally sorted out. Biologics are huge earners and Mr Yanai noted that the JV will be in a position to compete with eight of the top-selling ten biologics coming off patent over the next decade. They are currently generating annual sales of around $30 billion.

Analysts believe that initial targets for the JV could include Amgen/Wyeth's Enbrel (etanercept) and Biogen Idec/Genentech's Rituxan (rituximab).