Novartis chairman says wants to expand in Russia

Fri Jan 29, 2010 10:23am EST
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By Ben Hirschler

DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) - Swiss drugmaker Novartis NOVN.VX is eyeing Russia as the next big opportunity in emerging markets, after placing a major bet on China, its chairman said on Friday.

Daniel Vasella told Reuters that Russia's science base and large population made it an exciting prospect for investment in marketing infrastructure, drug production and research and development.

"The potential, I believe, is substantial," he said on the sidelines of annual meeting of the World Economic Forum.

"We will only do these investments once we have a fair understanding of the risks ... it is an aspiration to do it within two or three years."

Right now, however, China is top of the target list for Novartis and every other pharmaceutical company. It has an annual growth rate for pharmaceutical sales of more than 20 percent, fueled by a growing middle class.

Novartis unveiled plans last November to invest $1 billion in the largest pharmaceutical research facility in China and many of its rivals have also stepped up investment in the last two years.

Now Vasella is looking around for the next big emerging markets play.

"I would like to do something similar in Russia because Russia has a lot of talent and great history of science but unfortunately has lost, to some degree in some areas, the edge. I think it can regain it," he said.   Continued...