Feb 3, 2023
UK Risks Damaging Its Life Sciences, Warns Sanofi Chief
(Bloomberg) -- The UK is at risk of causing long-term damage to its once-vaunted life science sector, which would further limit patients’ access to cutting-edge medicines, Sanofi Chief Executive Officer Paul Hudson warned Friday.
While governments worldwide are grappling with pandemic-era budget deficits, UK officials need to keep a long-term perspective on the pharma sector when it comes to making investments in science and providing access to therapies, Hudson said.
“Already, less than 50% of the innovative medicines approved in the EU are available to patients in the UK,” Hudson said at a press conference in Paris after the French drugmaker released earnings. “You don’t really want to research a medicine in the UK that ultimately a patient will not be able to receive.”
Hudson’s comments cap a week of warnings from Europe’s top pharma leaders that the continent risks becoming a less attractive market for innovative medicines. The CEOs of Novartis AG, GSK Plc and Novo Nordisk A/S already pointed to austerity measures in the UK and across Europe as a cause of concern for the industry.
In the past two years, clinical research in the UK has fallen by about half, Hudson noted, making the country even less attractive when it comes to building out pharma product pipelines.
The UK is squandering its opportunities to promote health research, Kate Bingham, managing partner at SV Health Investors, wrote in the Financial Times last week. She gave the examples of the end of R&D tax breaks for small companies and a retrenching in investment by big multinationals like Bayer AG. SV Health Investors runs a fund of healthcare investments, the International Biotechnology Trust Plc, while Bingham chaired the UK’s Vaccine Taskforce at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Hudson raised the prospect of someone benefiting from an experimental drug during a clinical trial in the UK, but then not being able to access the drug even after it’s been approved. Drugmakers are increasingly tussling with the UK over costs of medicines and access to patients.
“It’s a miracle, and then you finish the study and the government says, ‘Well, thank you for contributing to the GDP of the country, but the medicine is no longer available to you,’” he said.
More broadly, European leaders need to focus on better capitalizing on the fact that the continent is already home to some of the world’s top scientists, he said. That’s at risk because for the first time, there are now more “high-impact” scientific studies coming out of China than Europe.
Hudson praised German Chancellor Olaf Scholz for signaling support for healthcare innovation on Thursday while he toured a factory for vaccine-maker BioNTech SE. Scholz vowed to streamline regulations to make it easier to open pharma factories, develop new therapies and get those products to the market.
“It’s great that there is head-of-state support for the sector,” Hudson said. “It has to turn into action.”
The British CEO cited Sanofi’s home country of France as a bright spot in that regard, highlighting recent public-private partnerships, especially focused on cancer research. Europe will need that sort of focus to stay competitive with the US and China in the life sciences, he said.
Europe could create a biotech hub on par with Boston, and it could be located in France, Hudson added.
“It’ll take a while, don’t get me wrong,” he said. “It’ll take until the end of the decade to see the proof point, but you have to start it.”
(Updates with comments from Kate Bingham in sixth paragraph)
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