DRUGS giant GlaxoSmith-Kline is to invest in more research in Scotland including expansion at its two plants north of the Border.
Chief executive Sir Andrew Witty admitted that the Montrose facility had come close to shutting but the company would now be “significantly expanding our footprint in Scotland”.
He said he was keen “to develop the full value chain” by supporting research and start-ups through to the manufacturing of drugs. The company has been repatriating some work to the UK from overseas following a review of operations.
His comments, during a visit to investors in Edinburgh, will be seen as a vote of confidence in the pharmaceuticals industry in Scotland and in the plants at Irvine and Montrose. The company also promises more skilled jobs.
Witty said the company wanted to expand the Montrose facility which had been in doubt some years ago.
“There was a debate about whether we needed Montrose and it was heading down the path of not being needed,” Witty said.
“But I had a different view to my predecessor. We needed to make our plants more efficient, then bring production back that had been offshored. This has proved very successful. By being more efficient we can compete.
“It is a lesson for the whole of the UK in terms of competing as a manufacturer. We should not give up,” he said.
GSK is the biggest investor in life sciences in Scotland and last March announced it was pumping £100 million into its Scottish facilities. This includes new technologies, upgrades and making the plants more environmentally friendly.
The company also has a deal with Edinburgh BioQuarter to develop treatments for acute pancreatitis, research contracts with Dundee University and a partnership with Strathclyde University. The company has dedicated 20 per cent of a venture capital fund to investing in opportunities in Scotland.
“There is a good bedrock of talent and research and potential spin-outs in Scotland, and it is a growing area for us in terms of how we would think about the future,” said Witty.
He said the value chain would be developed around the existing research and support for spin-outs, together with the manufacturing centres that helped create a cluster of activity.
“When you have a big factory somewhere, it helps make the country stickier for companies like ours,” he said.
Witty declined to say much about the independence debate, except that the drug company’s plans were not likely to be adversely affected by any change to Scotland’s status as a nation.
“I am going to leave that entirely to the politicians,” he said. “We work in 150 countries and we hope to be in Scotland today, tomorrow and in years to come.”
He said he had met First Minister Alex Salmond and finance secretary John Swinney but they had not discussed independence.
However, he had found them “engaging”. He said: “I had an extremely positive reaction.”
He said the future of the company’s Lucozade and Ribena brands was still being discussed and there had been approaches to buy them.
He would not disclose if Irn-Bru maker AG Barr or Britvic, which are planning a merger, had been among those interested.