Biogen announces billion-franc drugs plant

Biogen, an international biotechnology company, announced on Tuesday plans to invest one billion francs ($1.06 billion) for a new drug manufacturing plant in Luterbach in the canton of Solothurn.

Biogen announces billion-franc drugs plant
Aerial view of building site for Biogen plant. Photo: Canton of Solothurn

The company told a press conference with officials from the canton that work would begin on the plant at the end of this year with completion set for the end of 2018.

By 2019 the plant should be operational, creating 400 jobs and producing biopharmaceutical medicine, Biogen said.

The plant would be the fifth for the company in the world.

Founded in 1978 by a group of biologists in Geneva, the company has grown to employ 7,500 people with operations in 30 countries and annual revenues of $5 billion.

With corporate headquarters in Massachusetts and international headquarters in the canton of Zug, the company says it is committed to discovering, developing and delivering therapies to patients with neurodegenerative diseases, autoimmune disorders and hemophilia, according to its website.

Biogen said it has several new drugs in the pipeline that have created the need for additional production capacity.

“Thanks to excellent support from the canton of Solothurn, the municipality of Luterbach and the federal government, we have the opportunity to build the most advanced production facilities in the world,” Natascha Schill, CEO of Biogen Switzerland, said in a statement.

She said Solothurn “offers a business-friendly environment, reliable infrastructure, and access to well-trained labour.”

As well, Schill noted that Biogen already had its international headquarters in Switzerland.

“All these factors contribute to the fact that we want to expand our global production network in Luterbach.” 

The canton of Solothurn said a preliminary agreement had been signed with Biogen.

But it said a period of public consultation was needed, with a municipal meeting planned later this week to gather feedback.

Interpharma, the association of research-based pharmaceutical companies in Switzerland, welcomed Biogen’s announcement.

It is a clear sign of the “attractiveness of Switzerland” as a location for the pharmaceutical industry, Interpharma spokesman Thomas Cueni is quoted as saying by the Tages Anzeiger newspaper.


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Germany should make cannabis available at pharmacies not ‘coffee shops’, says FDP boss

Germany's possible new government could well relax the country's strict cannabis laws. But FDP leader Christian Lindner says he doesn't want to go down the Netherlands route.

A demonstrator smokes a joint at the pro-cannabis Hanfparade in Berlin in August 2021.
A demonstrator smokes a joint at the pro-cannabis Hanfparade in Berlin in August 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Annette Riedl

The Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) are set to engage in coalition talks in a bid to become the next German government.  And the future of cannabis will likely be one of the topics to be thrashed out.

In drug policy, the three parties are not too far apart in their positions. So it’s possible that the drug could be decriminalised.

However, nothing is set in stone and the parties still haven’t come to a common line on the question of where and to what extent cannabis could be accessed. 

The leader of the Liberal FDP, Christian Lindner, has now come out in favour of allowing cannabis products such as hashish to be sold in a controlled manner. 

Consumers should be allowed “to purchase a quantity for their own use, for example, in a pharmacy after health education,” Lindner told a live broadcast on German daily Bild on Sunday.

Lindner said he was sceptical about the sale in “coffee shops” according to the Dutch model. “I am in favour of controlled distribution, and therefore health education must be able to take place,” he said.

READ MORE: Patients in Germany still face hurdles accessing medical marijuana

People in the Netherlands can access cannabis products in coffee shops under the country’s tolerant drugs policy. However coffee shops have to follow certain strict conditions. For instance they are not allowed to sell large quantities to an individual. 

Lindner said his main aims were about “crime and health prevention” and not with “legalising a right to intoxication”.

It’s not clear if Lindner advocates for prescription-only cannabis for medical use, or an over-the-counter model. 

The FDP previously said that they they are in favour of the creation of licensed shops. Their manifesto highlights the health benefits, tax windfalls and reallocation of police resources that legalisation would create.

The Green party also want licensed shops, as well as a whole new approach to drug control starting with the controlled legalisation of marijuana. The Greens state that “strict youth and user protection” would be the centre point of their legislation and hope to “pull the rug from under the black market”.

The SPD also want a reform of Germany’s prohibition stance – but are more cautious than the smaller parties on the legalisation aspect. They would like to initially set up pilot projects. 

READ ALSO: Why Germany could be on the brink of legalising cannabis

Controversial topic

So far, the sale of cannabis is officially banned in Germany. Possession of cannabis is also currently illegal across the entire country. Those caught carrying the substance can face anything from a fine to five years in jail.

However, the justice system generally looks away if you are caught carry small quantities for personal use unless you have a previous conviction.

The definition of personal use differs from state to state, with Berlin having the most liberal rules and Bavaria the tightest.

It is estimated that around four million people regularly use cannabis in Germany.

Representatives of police unions in Germany have warned against legalisation. They argue that cannabis is an often trivialised drug that can lead to considerable health problems and social conflicts, especially among young people.

Oliver Malchow, from the GdP police union, said that “it doesn’t make any sense to legalise another dangerous drug on top of alcohol”.

The current Ministry of Health also continues to oppose the legalisation of cannabis, a spokesperson for Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) made clear. Cannabis is a dangerous substance and therefore legalisation is not advisable, the spokesman said.