Is the Government doing enough to promote the UK as a location for pharma research?

By Di Spencer, Pf Web Editor

In a recent poll, we asked the question in the title above to visitors to the Pf website. Overwhelmingly (90%) the response was ‘no’.

Recent facility closures such as Pfizer’s main UK R&D location in Kent have certainly gone a long way to undermine the UK’s importance as a research-base. The removal of the Pfizer plant could cost 2,400 jobs, which, following on the heels of other major research closures, is leaving many clinical professionals feeling there is nowhere left to go.

AZ, another ‘Big Pharma’ with an important R&D presence in the UK, laid off up to 1,000 R&D workers around this time last year.

This reduction of R&D activity in the UK is flying the face of assertions that the UK is a great place to conduct clinical research. Our nation certainly has a great heritage in this area – 25% of the top medicines were discovered here. But is maintaining this standard enough of a priority to the people in power? The Institute for Clinical Research (ICR) has revealed that the number of trials hosted in the UK dropped by a third between 2004 and 2009, demonstrating that the UK may be struggling to compete with cheaper research locations that offer less restrictive bureaucracy.

Vince Cable of the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) was quick to defend the UK’s position following Pfizer’s announcement. He said: “This country is an attractive location for the life sciences industry and with R&D tax credits and our plans to introduce a Patent Box, the Government is committed to ensuring the UK is the destination of choice for investment, research and growth.”

Nigel Gaymond, Chief Executive of BIA also joined in, asserting that “the UK remains the second home next to the US for the pharmaceutical and biotech industry”.

The Government has announced various schemes in an effort to encourage research activities back to the UK, such as the aforementioned Patent Box tax regime and the ring fencing of public funds for science, and these went some way to reassuring the industry.

However, a recent gathering of key stakeholders at the ICR’s ‘Great Debate’ concluded that the UK is unlikely to regain its preeminence as a location for trials due to competition from countries like Brazil and China, but with the right support and infrastructure in place, it could maintain a steady level and even build on it. Read Peter Mansell’s summary of the debate for more details on what was discussed.

The importance of pharma R&D to the UK economy is undeniable. In 2010 it was revealed that around 80% of UK R&D was conducted by just one hundred of the top R&D investing companies, many of which operate in the pharmaceuticals and biotechnology sector. The UK may not have the infrastructure to win back its status as one of the top two sites for R&D, but it is important that the Government’s initiatives reassure the life sciences industries that the UK still has something to offer.

 

 

Contact the author: diana.spencer@healthpublishing.co.uk