Ozempic maker Novo Nordisk buys Irish drug manufacturing plant in €85m deal

Danish weight loss and diabetes specialist is looking to develop a tablet form of its blockbuster obesity treatments

Weight loss and diabetes drug company Novo Nordisk has bought a drug manufacturing plant in Athlone as it looks to expand production to meet worldwide demand.

The Danish group has paid $92.5 million (€85 million) to acquire the former Elan Drug Technologies plant from Irish-headquartered pharma group Alkermes in a deal that is expected to close in the middle of next year.

Alkermes said the sale of the business would offer around 400 staff at the plant “an exciting opportunity for growth” while “aligning the group’s infrastructure and cost structure with the projected needs of the business” as it focuses on becoming a “pure-play neuroscience company”.

Novo Nordisk has been struggling to increase the supply of its Ozempic and Wegovy treatments for obesity and diabetes. In the past month alone, the company has announced an investment of €7.8 billion in two of its plants in Denmark and France.


The Irish acquisition points to ongoing plans by the company, which has grown rapidly to become Europe’s largest drug business, to develop a form of weight loss drug that can be taken as a tablet. Both Ozempic and Wegovy are injectable.

A late-stage study by Novo Nordisk of a high-dose version of its type-2 oral diabetes drug, Rybelsus, showed results in treating obesity in line with those previously achieved by Ozempic and Wegovy, the company told a diabetes conference in the US earlier this year.

Obese patients averaged a weight loss of 15 per cent after 68 weeks of treatment, with a third seeing a 20 per cent drop in their weight, according to industry reports of the event.

Rybelsus is already approved for the treatment of Type 2 diabetes.

In a statement on Thursday, a spokesman said the acquisition of the Athlone facility “is part of Novo Nordisk’s plan to expand manufacturing capacity globally and represents an expansion of our manufacturing set-up for current and future oral products”.

It added that a submission to seek approval for the use of oral semaglutide (Rybelsus) to treat obesity in the US was awaiting completion of a clinical trial.

Earlier this year, the company bought a site understood to stretch to 85 acres in the west Dublin industrial zone, where pharma companies like Pfizer and Takeda already have a significant presence. Building an injectables plant there would involve an initial investment reported to be in the region of €50 million.

The purchase of the land and now the Athlone operation marks a departure for the Danish pharma group which, until now, was noticeable among the larger players in the sector in not having a manufacturing presence in Ireland.

In a statement on Thursday, a spokesman for the company said: “Novo Nordisk is looking into expanding its manufacturing capacity in Europe and Ireland is one of the potential locations considered. To that end, we have acquired land at Grange Castle Business Park.”

Novo Nordisk reported last month that sales had jumped by a third in the first nine months of the year at constant exchange rates, with the US market seeing growth of 46 per cent. Operating profits were 37 per cent ahead of the same period last year.

Ozempic is currently available in Ireland only as a licensed therapy for diabetes, not for treating obesity. Wegovy has yet to enter the Irish market.

Dominic Coyle

Dominic Coyle

Dominic Coyle is Deputy Business Editor of The Irish Times