Nycomed Amersham plc's New Facility in Shanghai, China.
Chart showing health expenditure in proportion to GDP.
The Pharmadule method involves the construction of individual modules like this which are then shipped out to the facility site.
The modular construction allows for easy expansion. This is important as Nycomed Amersham are likely to want to expand if the Chinese joint venture is as successful as is hoped.
The construction of the modules in Sweden allows them to be tested before shipment.
MRI brainscan image.

In 2000, Nycomed Amersham announced it would open a new pharmaceutical plant in Shanghai on 27 October.

Nycomed Amersham developed the facility through its joint venture (JV) company Shanghai Nycomed Pharmaceutical (SNPC). It cost a total of $34m to build and was in operation by mid-2001. Once complete, it produced in excess of five million units of contrast agent per year.

By 2003, Nycomed Amersham had been bought by GE Healthcare for £9bn to add assets to GE Medical’s diagnostic imaging, services and healthcare IT business. The Shanghai plant (SNPC) became known as GE Healthcare Shanghai.

Partners for project

The partners in the SNPC JV were Nycomed Amersham with an 80% share, Shanghai ZJ Hi-tech Park Development Company with a 13% share, and Shanghai Huai Hai Pharmaceutical Factory with 7%.

With the acquisition, GE Healthcare now owns Nycomed Amersham’s 80%.

Nycomed Amersham was a well-known producer of radiotherapy and medical diagnostic products and the SNPC plant supplied the Chinese market with its non-ionic X-ray contrast agents and other contrast media products.

As the senior partner in the enterprise, Nycomed Amersham was expected to provide most of the technology and initial capital. The Chinese partners provided some of the land and local connections with potential buyers in the region.

Pharmadule and modular plant construction

The Shanghai pharmaceutical plant was constructed by Swedish company Pharmadule. It carried out the detailed design simultaneously with construction.

The plant’s modules were assembled in Sweden, including the pipework, process equipment and much of the ancillary equipment. This allowed Pharmadule to test everything before it was sent out. The modules were then shipped to China for erection on a prepared foundation.

“By 2003, Nycomed Amersham had been bought by GE Healthcare for £9bn to add assets to GE Medical’s diagnostic imaging, services and healthcare IT business.”

The modules were made of steel, and are resistant to a wide range of climatic conditions.

SNPC was responsible for preparing the foundation and other parts of the basic infrastructure such as sanitation facilities and electricity supply. Pharmadule was able to install between four and six modules a day at this stage.

The new SNPC plant

The SNPC plant occupies an area of around 20,000m² in the Pudong New Area (ZJ Hi-tech Park), an economic-free zone designed to promote industrial growth and development in Shanghai.

The company has a long-term lease on the premises with ample room for future expansion.

Construction started in 1998 and the plant became fully operational at the end of 2000. It was built to international pharmaceutical good manufacturing practice (GMP) standards and its production was based on Pharmadule’s modular concept, which eased construction and allowed provision for future expansion.

With a production capacity of five million units a year, the plant has only been able to supply a fraction of the potential Chinese markets.

SNPC plant production

The plant manufactured Omnipaque finished products based on bulk iohexol substance supplied from Lindesnes, Norway.

The manufacture of Calcichew calcium tablets for the Chinese market was also undertaken at the SNPC facility, with a capacity of around 160 million tablets/year.

Apbiotech relocation

Nycomed Amersham’s life science business APBiotech relocated its Chinese operations to the SNPC plant at the end of 2000.

The Beijing Genomics Institute used APBiotech’s DNA sequencer megabace in its projects for sequencing rice and pig genomes.

GE Healthcare expands in Shanghai

In September 2005, GE Healthcare announced a $37.5m investment to extend the production facility in Shanghai to meet increasing customer demand for products internationally.

The plant also underwent a review process to be a US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved site for contrast media in China. This was passed in 2006, allowing the company to export internationally. The Shanghai plant plays a critical role in the company’s global contrast media supply chain (CMSC).

In the period up to 2010, GE believed that the demand for contrast media in China would grow in double digits and expansion was required. At that time, the Shanghai facility manufactured around five million units of the X-ray and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) products Visipaque, Omnipaque and Omniscan, and an expansion of the facility for completion by 2007 would allow it to produce 15 million units. Future expansion was also planned to take the plant to 30 million units.

The expansion was completed by February 2007. It added mixing and preparation, filling, sterilisation, inspection, packaging, and associated utility equipment, as well as expanded the site’s on-site storage capabilities. A second phase of the project began in 2009 with a total investment of $74m.

As one of the largest contrast agent manufacturers in China, the company racked up domestic sales of about $26m in 2006 and exported production worth more than $95m. GE’s total investment in Shanghai now exceeds $554m.