Sanofi to invest $200 mln in French biotech plants

PARIS, March 31 (Reuters) - French drugmaker Sanofi-Aventis SASY.PA on Wednesday said it would invest 150 million euros ($201.4 million) over four years to build up its biotechnology manufacturing capacities in France.

The project aims at restructuring chemical facilities to prepare them for declining production in the face of patent expirations, Philippe Luscan, head of industrial affairs, told Reuters by telephone after Sanofi released its statement.

It will include a 90 million euro investment to create a new biosynthetic process in the plants of Saint-Aubin-Les-Elbeuf, in northwestern France, and Vertolaye, in central France, in order to improve its global competitiveness on corticosteroid output.

This will result in local job creation, said Sanofi, which in parallel plans to shut its Romainville plant, in northwestern France, by the end of 2013.

Sanofi said the closure would be accompanied by a “job stimulus plan” in the area but denied there would be job cuts.

“There is a balance between a reduction in chemical jobs and a rise in biotechnology jobs, so the number of jobs will be steady overall,” Luscan said, pointing at a plan to train 700 staff to turn chemists into biotechnology experts.

Luscan said Sanofi would also help some Romainville employees relocate to new facilities. Sanofi employs 12,500 staff in France in its chemical, vaccine, biotechnology and pharmaceutical businesses.

Under the plan, Sanofi will also step up its activities at its new Neuville-sur-Saone, near Lyon, where the new vaccine against the dengue fever is already planned to be produced.

Sanofi said it will have devoted 700 million euros in total between 2008 and 2014 to investments to turn its chemical production facilities in France to biotechnology capacities. ($1=.7448 Euro) (Reporting by Marie Maitre and Benjamin Mallet; editing by Simon Jessop)