AS Watson is to buy a 42-year-old pharmacy chain in Malaysia for M$14 million (HK$28.7 million), bringing the number of drug stores it owns in the country to 101. Watson's Personal Care Stores, the group's Malaysian unit, will buy full ownership of the 24 Apex Pharmacy stores around the country from Malaysia main board-listed Apex Healthcare. After the completion of the acquisition, Watsons Malaysia will invest M$3.5 million to refurbish the outlets. The announcement comes a month after the group bought Drogas, an 83-outlet chain of health and beauty stores in Latvia and Lithuania, extending its international reach to 42 countries. The group's first overseas buy was in Britain in 2000. Watson, the retail and consumer manufacturing division of Hutchison Whampoa, is the largest personal care retail chain in Asia, operating more than 770 stores in the mainland, Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand. The company, which operates 13 separate retail chains and employs more than 64,000 people worldwide, reported turnover of HK$63 billion last year. The group said the purchase of the Apex Pharmacy retail business was in line with a strategy to expand the group's portfolio in Asia and Europe. Andrew Miles, chief executive of AS Watson's Asia health and beauty division, said the move would strengthen the group's presence in Malaysia result in significant growth in market share. 'It will increase our sales and purchase volume, and benefit consumers through competitive pricing and a wider selection of merchandise, made possible by the greater economies of scale. Specially, the enlarged pharmacy business is expected to be the new source of growth in revenue and profitability for the merged operations,' he said. The acquisition would enlarge the chain's workforce to more than 1,000 from 800 in Malaysia. Apex Pharmacy opened its first store in Melaka state in 1962, before expanding nationwide.