(Bloomberg) --

Aspen Pharmacare Holdings Ltd. opened the southern hemisphere’s largest general anesthetics manufacturing line, adding production at the South African plant where it fills and packages the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine.

The extension will see products generating 8 billion rand ($542 million) a year relocated to the coastal town of Gqeberha from Europe, Chief Executive Officer Stephen Saad told reporters at the site on Monday.

Aspen shifted the production of drugs for late-stage cancer, Parkinson’s disease and some auto-immune illnesses to the factory in 2018. Last year it started making the J&J shot there.

“This facility will help ensure no African is ever denied these treatments like anesthetics and vaccines again,” Saad said. “We thank J&J for giving us the capability to create our own manufacturing facilities. So we’ve been able to produce vaccines in Africa and now to also bring anesthetics home.”

Durban, South Africa-based Aspen has switched focus to producing so-called steriles such as anesthetics rather than lower-value generic medicines, paving the way for a push into vaccines. The group is in talks with J&J about gaining a license to fully manufacture the coronavirus dose. 

Aspen has received two unsolicited offers for its active pharmaceutical ingredient business and has started a process aimed at evaluating proposals for the unit. The approaches are for operations almost exclusively in Europe and make both chemicals and the anticoagulant drug heparin. The company has already sold most of its other heparin interests, part of a recent slimming down effort to reduce debt. 

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