Nissan stays in UK - but will Japanese pharma?

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The government has convinced carmaker Nissan to keep production in the UK – but questions remain whether Japanese pharma companies will continue to invest in the country following Brexit.

In September, Japan's government released a document outlining its concerns about Brexit, saying Japanese pharma R&D investment decisions might hinge on whether the European Medicines Agency remains at its current location in London.

While the EMA says it’s very much “business as usual” for the time being, the agency looks certain to move to elsewhere in the EU once Brexit arrives in 2019.

Sarah Rickwood, vice president of Thought Leadership at QuintilesIMS, told a press briefing that Japanese firms such as Eisai and Takeda may decide to invest their money in the country that wins a potential beauty contest to host the EMA headquarters.

At least eight countries have expressed an interest in hosting the EMA, Rickwood said at a briefing to launch an QuintilesIMS report into how to get the best Brexit deal for UK life sciences.

Eisai has already threatened to scale back investment in the UK after running into issues trying to get its cancer drugs recommended by cost-effectiveness body, NICE.

Representatives of the company were up in arms after its thyroid cancer drug, Lenvima (lenvatinib), was denied a NICE review until at least 2018. This was because it was launched during a period when NHS England was rethinking its assessments of cancer drugs.

Without backing of NICE, patients can only get the drug on the NHS in England through individual funding requests, and sales have been almost non-existent as a result.

Eisai has invested £150 million in a state-of-the-art production facility in the UK. The reason for this is the tax breaks introduced over the last few years for pharma manufacturing.

Relocation of the EMA may be the last straw for many Japanese companies such as Daiichi Sankyo, or Takeda, who are already scaling back, or considering closing UK operations.

Rickwood said: “We have been enormously successful in getting investment from Japan and its companies form a major part of the pharmaceutical industry, because they see Europe as an area where they want to invest.”

But if the EMA moves, Japanese pharma investment could go somewhere in a growing list of countries lining up to host the EMA should Brexit force it away from London.

That means Japanese pharma investment would likely follow the regulator to Sweden, Germany, Spain, or whichever country ends up hosting the EMA.

Dr Ginny Acha, executive director, research medical and innovation at the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, noted that many of the Japanese companies concerned are members of the trade body.

She said that feedback so far was that like many big pharma companies, are struggling to deal with the uncertainties around Brexit.

“They are really asking the big questions about industrial policy and what the government wants to do with life sciences – that is going to take some working through.”

Listen to the full pharmaphorum/QuintilesIMS webinar on Brexit implications for pharma here.