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Sandoz Boss Says Lek a Key Part of Group's Business (interview)

Ljubljana, 18 May (STA) - The boss of pharma company Sandoz, the generics arm of Swiss giant Novartis which owns Slovenian drug maker Lek, has said in an interview for the STA that Lek is and will remain a key site for Sandoz.

Sandoz believes in a multi-brand strategy and Lek is a strong brand for over-the-counter drugs, in particular in Poland and Russia, Jeff George said in an interview.

"We must take into consideration the local needs, local positioning, the advantages, in particular for Lek in Slovenia," he said.

Asked to comment on rumours that Lek would be downgraded to a "Sandoz warehouse", George said this was "the most ridiculous comment I've heard, and I hear a lot of ridiculous comments."

"[Lek] is one of our most important global development centres. We manufacture complex injectibles...In Menges we do biosimilars, which is the most innovative part of our business," he noted.

With 2,400 employees, 100 of them with PhDs, Lek's is one of "the most scientifically and technically competent teams that we have anywhere in the world".

"The notion that we would view our sites in Prevalje, Menges and Ljubljana as warehouses is ridiculous...Slovenia is a key development and manufacturing site for us," he said.

Asked about the business environment in Slovenia, George said it was "fair and transparent", but at the same time difficult, as the market is not growing.

However, business practices are fair and Sandoz is treated with respect and transparency, which will enable the company to make investments in Slovenia.

During his visit to Ljubljana in late April, George also held talks with Prime Minister Borut Pahor, but he said no specific investments were debated.

"We discussed the relationship and how to preserve the positive spirit and positive relationship that we enjoy with the Slovenian government."

"Even if we had discussed specific investments, which we did not, we don't publicly disclose our investment strategy because it is competitively confidential," he said.

However, in an interview with Monday's edition of business daily Finance Pahor said that Sandoz planned to expand in Slovenia.

"Like in the case of Revoz [a subsidiary of the French car maker Renault], we are willing to provide Sandoz incentives because it will nearly double production at Lek."

Overall, George assessed the acquisition by Lek in August 2002 "a great move". "It built up our position and leadership in Central and Eastern Europe and I think it was good for Slovenia," he said, noting that Sandoz has invested EUR 900m in Slovenia so far.

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