BioWorld International Correspondent

Swiss vaccines company Berna Biotech AG won a US$28 million project with Korean industrial and electronics giant Samsung, of Seoul, to design and build two GMP-compliant vaccine production plants in Vietnam. In addition, the Vietnamese government is licensing Berna Biotech's Hansenula polymorpha technology in order to produce hepatitis B vaccines for the local market.

The two facilities, which are due to enter production in 2005, will be responsible for producing five vaccines - against hepatitis B, Japanese encephalitis, cholera, rabies and typhoid. "They will be owned by the Vietnamese government, so that means we are not investing ourselves," company spokesman Marcel Jacobs told BioWorld International.

Berna Biotech, of Bern, is participating in the project consortium through its majority-owned Korean subsidiary, Green Cross Vaccine Corp., which it acquired when it merged with Dutch firm Rhein Biotech earlier this year. Jacobs positioned the project as a market development rather than a strategic initiative. "It is not a core activity for our company, but we are in the vaccines business and in each country we have a pragmatic approach to getting into the market," he said.

"It also opens up the Vietnamese market for other Berna Biotech products in the future," he said. A major aspect of the Rhein Biotech-Berna Biotech merger was the fit in the firms' geographic reach. In 2001, Berna Biotech said 89 percent of its sales were derived from the European market, while Rhein Biotech focuses on selling into emerging markets.