German healthcare and life sciences firm Merck KGaA may set up a bio-production plant in India to help local companies create biotech drugs and biosimilars (copies of off-patent bio-tech drugs). The plant will be its fourth such globally, a top executive for the company told Mint.

“We would be open to set up a bio-production centre. We have one in France and we have opened one in the US. We will open another one in China. Because we believe that demand in these three geographies is undisputed; as it is in India,” Udit Batra, member of the executive board of Merck KGaA and chief executive of its life science business, which contributes 44% of the firm’s global revenue, said in an interview on Friday.

“We will talk to some government officials. We would want to make sure that we have some local customers who would like to use this facility and we want to make sure that regulations are somehow standardized,” Batra said.

“I think this is where the discussion needs to happen in a very open way and the government will have to assure us that the regulatory standards will apply to every one,” he added.

Investments for such plants are not huge, around $40 million, Batra said; but the plant will provide critical infrastructure to small biotech and biosimilar firms in India who want to develop a process for a new biosimilar.

“Bio-production plant synthesises a molecule and produces it at a higher scale. Somebody has to make it at a large quantity since smaller firms can’t do it. There are so many tests that needs to be done. What I understand (is) that they will help those companies to carry out those tests,” said S.K. Ghosh, head of the department of biotechnology at Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur.

The benefits for Merck Life Science would also be significant, Batra said.

“Benefit for us is pretty good, economically. Because, if we develop a batch for someone, they are going to use our products,” he said.

“When you are developing a molecule, you want to develop a batch with certain degree of confidence in process development. We are the only one in the industry who has the products and process development,” he added.

If the company does open the centre, it would replicate the centres that already exist in Martillac in France and two additional ones that Merck has recently announced in Shanghai and Greater Boston in the US.

Merck Life Science has a Merck Lab in India and has production facilities in Goa and Bengaluru.

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