UK Report: Keep Calm and Carry On ... Differently - Pharmaceutical Executive


UK Report: Keep Calm and Carry On ... Differently

Pharmaceutical Executive


Steve Oldfield, Managing Director, Sanofi UK
This wouldn't be the first time that the UK sets the standard for the global pharmaceutical industry. Historically, both companies and regulatory authorities have looked toward the British market to determine what policies were most effective to therefore enact them elsewhere. GSK's Jose recounts that "the UK has a disproportionate influence on the global commercial environment for the industry; 25% of world markets reference their prices to the UK, and decisions by NICE have influenced well beyond the borders of England." A tendency to reference prices and regulation on UK practices can also been seen in the predominant role that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has played in pan-European regulatory initiatives. Sir Kent Woods, chief executive of the MHRA, states, "The agency has attracted an increasing amount of work on European regulatory work. The Agency does more of the decentralized procedures than any other state. Part of our growth has been drawing in work from other areas of the EU."

Martin Dawkins, Managing Director UK and Ireland, Bayer
Beyond regulation, "the British pharmaceutical industry has a disproportionate amount of R&D spent here. GSK alone locates around 40% of its R&D in the UK and 20% of its manufacturing, while the country only represents 4% of our sales," says Jose. Surely it makes sense that being a British company GSK would have a top-heavy presence in the country, but many of the other European and American pharmaceutical giants have a similar story to tell—even the French. Sanofi's Oldfield validates their local manufacturing and R&D presence by arguing that "the quality of British industry has always been very well-regarded and continues to be so today. For example, the 'Made in the UK' symbol is still a solid sign of good quality around the world. Additional to that is the UK's ability to drive quality improvement measures that continue to raise the standards of production. Another major asset that the UK offers the pharmaceutical industry is the quality of innovation not only in terms of new products, but also in operational and manufacturing processes." Jose concludes that "there already is a strong industrial base here, but the government realizes it cannot be complacent given that other countries are creating policies to attract inward investment in this sector."

Richard Blackburn, Managing Director UK, Pfizer
This point has become most palpable over the last couple of years after companies such as Novartis, MSD, and Pfizer announced plans to shut down R&D and manufacturing sites in the country, representing a total loss of more than 3,000 jobs. "Given our track record in the UK, this was a very difficult decision for the company, but it was in no way a response to the quality of British science and the individuals that are available to conduct research in the country," explains Richard Blackburn, general manager of Pfizer UK. "Rather, people should understand that our decision to exit the site was based on Pfizer's need to rationalize the number of therapeutic areas that we are conducting research in." Yet, such statements have been ineffective in mollifying those who see one of the country's greatest industries in sharp decline. "What I believe has happened is that people have interpreted changes in R&D investments as a signal that the quality and standard of British science is also changing, but I don't think that is the case," states Blackburn. "The UK is still a place where we conduct great R&D, and this is why we have recently established our Pain and Sensory Disorders research unit in Cambridge. The good news is that companies tend to be fairly unsentimental in terms of where they conduct their research," which means that if the metrics improve then there is a good prospect of this continuing to take place in the UK.

Stephen Whitehead of the ABPI is convinced that, regardless of unsettling news of site closures and the uncertainty around the healthcare reforms, "the UK will always be a world leader in science and R&D policy because we have some of the best universities, some of the best pharmaceutical companies and we have strong R&D bases here for these global companies." With academic bastions such as Oxford and Cambridge, British science has typically been regarded as authoritative on a global basis. Chief executive of the BioIndustry Association (BIA), Nigel Gaymond, adds that "looking at the long heritage of research, the number of Nobel laureates that come out of the UK for example, it is probably fair to say that the UK is one of the most productive nations when it comes to the generation of intellectual property (IP). Four of the top 10 universities in the world, around 19 of the top 100 and 30 of the top 200, are in the UK. For a relatively small country in comparison to some of the giants in the world, this represents a tremendous front of knowledge, which certainly drives us forward. Whitehead adds that as a country which disproportionately leads the industry's R&D efforts, "the UK is very significantly exposed to global trends of the industry," including the myriad economic pressures and the weak productivity of new drugs over the past few years. Certainly this is reflected in the generally somber mood of Big Pharma locally, which Gaymond justifies by concluding "that in the UK in particular, we sometimes dwell too much on the negative news rather than celebrating our successes".


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