Multi-million plans for the ‘pill factory’

A MASSIVE £7million expansion programme has been announced by Morpeth’s largest private sector employer.

Piramal Healthcare has pledged the investment for its Whalton Road plant, safeguarding dozens of jobs and opening up the prospects for many more.

The expansion will triple the production capacity for hormonal products, such as contraceptive pills and hormone replacement therapies, at the plant and will see site production capacity increase by about two billion tablets a year.

A new suite will be built to house formulation, packaging, coating and tableting equipment, with work due to start at the end of the year.

It is expected to be completed within 12 months and full operations will begin after a further six-month validation period.

Piramal Enterprises Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer Vijay Shah said: “The production of hormonal products is a highly specialised, niche area. The Morpeth facility is our Centre of Excellence for these products and this expansion will greatly enhance our offer and potential for growth in this space.

“The hormonal sector currently represents an $11billion market globally and is growing at a pace of four to five per cent annually. With major competition limited to a small number of contract manufacturing organisations in Europe, Piramal sees major opportunities for growth in this area, given our vast experience in this field, which spans more than 40 years.”

The company, which took over the Morpeth plant from Pfizer in 2006, hopes the expansion will enable it to become one of the largest contract manufacturers in the sector.

Hexham MP Guy Opperman, whose constituency includes the factory, welcomed news of the investment.

He said: “When the details are confirmed I will be utterly delighted. I’m sure that local people will look forward to jobs in a key local sector.

“This is great news and I look forward to meeting Piramal and discussing the way ahead.”

Northumberland county councillor for the area Glen Sanderson was equally pleased at the announcement.

“This is great news for Northumberland and great news for Morpeth,” he said.

“Hopefully, jobs will come from this and it will allow opportunities for those people in the immediate area to find a good job and make the whole area prosperous.

“It is very good news and I welcome it.”

The ‘pill factory’ was established by the Searle Company in the 1960s with an initial capital investment of around £5million, and was officially opened by Lord Ridley in 1969, a year after operations began.

It started out with 250 employees, but further expansion led to almost 600 jobs.

Previous operators have included Monsanto and Pharmacia.