The pharma industry in the UK is finally recovering from the “shock” of major job cuts and site closures at companies such as Pfizer and AstraZeneca, according to David Willetts minister of state for universities and science.
Speaking at the launch of Eisai's Hatfield-based facility to manufacture epilepsy drug Fycompa, Willetts said there was “now a far more positive environment in life sciences”, citing Eisai as an example of the benefits of the government's life science strategy.
“If you provide the right environment for business, then as well as R&D happening the UK, we can see manufacturing happening in the UK,” said the minister.
“We're shifting from having such large in-house R&D facilities to a more open innovation model, and that's been seen at Pfizer and AstraZeneca. But we don't think that change in business model should mean a reduction in the total size of the life science sector in the UK.
“The life sciences strategy tries consistently at each stage of the life sciences process to show how we can take active steps to be more pro-business.”
Willetts' positivity was backed by Gary Hendler, president and CEO, Eisai EMEA & Russia, who was also in attendance at the ceremony, which marked the first time Eisai has manufactured the global supply of a medicine outside its home country of Japan.
“This is a good place for business, even for pharmaceuticals, despite the fact that other companies are going elsewhere,” said Hendler, referencing Takeda's decision to open manufacturing facilities in Russia.
“I think what the government wants is a good news story. They want to be able to demonstrate that their strategy is actually working, that they can attract inwards investment from non-UK companies.
“By way of example, Fycompa is the end-to-end perfect model for the government. And it really does resonate with them.”
Gary Hendler discusses the UK's potential for the pharma industry (if video doesn't work, watch the video on YouTube)
Part of the government's continued plan for investment in the UK is the proposed 'patent box', which offers a 10 per cent rate of corporate tax to companies for products with a registered patent in the UK compared to the current standard rate of 24 per cent.
Hendler commended the patent box initiative, saying Eisai was planning to transfer its intellectual property rights to the UK.
“It makes the UK more competitive in relation to other countries who have already introduced similar scheme,” said Hendler.
“We plan to bring more research-led activities into the UK, which is clearly a result of the patent box.
“Our commitment is a long-term commitment to be able to bring more funding into the UK for development, and we have selected a drug [Fycompa] to do that.”
However, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has chosen not to review Fycompa for recommendation for routine use within the NHS, and the issue of access and uptake of medicines is still an issue that needs to be addressed for Eisai.
As such, ongoing negotiations regarding the introduction of value-based pricing (VBP) are key for the UK's ability to attract industry, according to Nick Burgin, European director of market access at Eisai.
He said: “If we don't have access, patients don't get to use the drug that's developed here, then the rest of the world looks at that drug, and says 'if it's not being used in the market where it was discovered, why would you expect us to use it here?'”
He continued: “On the access side, let's hope VBP improves that. And then on the uptake side, we've got the Innovation Health and Wealth report and I'm actively involved in that, and I have to say that the joint working between the industry and the NHS is almost unprecedented – it's brilliant to watch.
“But at the end of the say, the NHS is not going to change rapidly. And it's going to be a bit of a long haul.”
Responding, Willetts said: “I think there is the potential in VBP for it to recognise innovation better than innovation has been allowed for so far.”