Drug Companies From Glaxo to J&J Pledge to Make U.K. Investments

(Bloomberg) -- GlaxoSmithKline Plc, Johnson & Johnson, Merck & Co. and AstraZeneca Plc are among more than two dozen global pharmaceutical companies pledging to invest funds in the U.K. as part of a multi-billion-pound effort to spur the country’s health-care industry.

The U.K.’s two largest drugmakers will invest in genetic research in the hunt for new medicines, the government said on Wednesday. Glaxo will set aside 40 million pounds ($54 million) in part to build on a program to sequence data from 500,000 volunteers, the company said in a separate statement.

Drugmakers and biotech companies are committing to projects as the U.K. vows to make the country a more attractive investment destination amid preparations to exit the European Union. The total amount of funds wasn’t disclosed in the so-called sector deal, the first of four between Prime Minister Theresa May’s administration and industries as she aims “to get the whole economy firing.” Her government meanwhile is fighting to get Brexit talks back on track after an embarrassing breakdown on Monday.

Deals for the construction, artificial intelligence and automotive industries are also nearing completion as ministers aim to inject certainty into an environment disrupted by Brexit amid rising questions about future ties between the two markets. The life sciences deal sought to promote biomedical research, new technologies including diagnostics and genomics programs, clinical testing, the manufacturing of new therapies and establishment of more treatment centers.

The accord was announced two weeks after U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond pledged in the Autumn Budget to boost the research and development tax credit to 12 percent, and to increase overall spending on R&D to 12.5 billion pounds annually by 2021-22.

Johnson & Johnson and the University of Oxford plan a collaboration to focus on mental-health disorders, according to the government. That follows announcements by U.S. drugmaker Merck and Dutch diagnostics provider Qiagen NV that add to their investments in the U.K.

Building on the nation’s strong universities and research will be crucial to achieving the nation’s plans to bolster its life-science sector, Patrick Vallance, Glaxo’s president of research and development, said in an interview. Britain has been dependent on attracting scientists and students from around the world and allowing them to thrive, he said.

“It’s very difficult for countries to build a strong academic base and science base quickly,” said Vallance, who is set to leave in March to become a scientific adviser to the prime minister. “On the other hand, it’s quite easy to lose it quickly if you don’t get it right.”

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