Drug Industry to Invest More Despite Brexit, U.K. Adviser Says

(Bloomberg) -- Drug companies are preparing to make hundreds of millions of pounds of new investment commitments in the U.K. as part of a government effort to boost the life-sciences sector after Brexit, according to the architect of the strategy.

That’s on top of announcements last December by more than two dozen global companies, including GlaxoSmithKline Plc, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca Plc. The pledges are a key piece of a broader multibillion-pound push by the U.K. to make the country more competitive with its exit from the European Union looming.

“We’ve got a list of interesting investments,” which are set to be unveiled in November, John Bell, a University of Oxford scientist tapped by the government to develop the life-sciences plan, said in an interview.

The planned investments provide a silver lining for the U.K. as the European Medicines Agency prepares to move from London to Amsterdam because of Brexit. Drugmakers are bracing for a worst-case, no-deal scenario, and hundreds of millions of pounds are being spent on getting ready that could have gone to developing new treatments, the head of an industry trade group said in June.

The U.K.’s reluctance to fund certain expensive medications further undermines the country’s attraction as an investment destination, Roche Holding AG Chief Executive Officer Severin Schwan said in an interview.

Diabetes Research

Bell, who attended an event this week to open a new diabetes research center at Oxford funded by Novo Nordisk A/S, said there’s an opportunity for the U.K. after Brexit to move more nimbly without the regulatory constraints of the EU in areas including vaccines, stem cell research and big data.

“Brexit, I think, is definitely going to happen,” he said. “The real question is, ‘Are there things that you can do to take advantage of it?’ ”

Under the initial announcement, Glaxo said it would set aside 40 million pounds ($52 million) for a project to sequence data from 500,000 volunteers. Johnson & Johnson and Oxford said they would collaborate to focus on mental-health disorders, while other companies such as Merck & Co. and AstraZeneca also made commitments.

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