The Slovenia Times

Novartis Invested EUR 1.3BN in Lek Since Acquisition



Lek, the biggest single foreign investment in Slovenia, has recently been honoured with Invest Slovenia FDI Awards for long-term presence in Slovenia. Talking to the STA on the occasion, chairman Urlep says that Slovenia "is not competitive today and the situation is not conducive to foreign investment".

Citing financial reporting rules, Urlep could not disclose business estimates for the year except for saying that the operating results in the first three quarters of the year are in accordance with the plans despite the strained situation in the market.

Lek is today a leading development centre of Novartis's generics arm Sandoz, accounting for one third of Sandoz's development projects, including in the most advanced areas such as biosimilars, as well as a key production centre.

Urlep would not speculate on what would have happened had Lek not been acquired by Novartis, but he points to the advantage of broader access to global markets and investment in expertise and development that he suggests would not have been possible without Novartis.

"Lek has always been a successful pharmaceutical company. When Novartis bought us, we had more than a 50-year tradition, expertise and experience. We were the first generics company from Central and Eastern Europe to get into the US as the most demanding pharmaceuticals market with an end product and had started developing biosimilars."

The new owner upgraded this with investment: "Since the the end of 2002, when Novartis acquired Lek, the Swiss owner has invested more than EUR 1.3bn in its operations in Slovenia. Half of the funds went for development projects and the other half for modernising and expanding production facilities."

The number of development projects has doubled, while the headcount increased from 2,400 on 31 December 2002 to more than 2,700 in December last year. The company has seen several internal restructuring processes during which it has increased its personnel potential in key areas, Urlep says.

"Inclusion in the generics division Sandoz, which has a well-developed global marketing and sales network, has also given us access to all markets with demand for our products so that today you can hardly find a Made in Slovenia product present in more global markets than our medicines."

Urlep does not think owners should be divided on the basis of whether they come from abroad or from Slovenia, but rather on whether they act as responsible owners such as Novartis or not. Slovenia has in his opinion seen a period in which domestic owners have not acted responsibly.

"You cannot equate responsible ownership simply with foreign capital alone, but the locally specific negative examples of Slovenian transition period are just too many, which is why many analyses show foreign-owned companies to be more successful."


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