U.K. Seeks Life Sciences Boost With UCB, Roche Investments

(Bloomberg) -- Biotech company UCB SA plans to invest about 1 billion pounds ($1.3 billion) in the U.K. over five years as part of a government strategy to spur the life-sciences industry as Brexit looms.

The Belgian company’s plans include a new research-and-development facility, while Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche Holding AG will invest a further 30 million pounds in Britain, mostly in a precision cancer research partnership, the government said on Wednesday. In addition, a new program backed by the U.K. aims to use artificial intelligence to develop next-generation treatments.

The government said the latest investments add up to 1.3 billion pounds and come a year after pharma companies including GlaxoSmithKline Plc, Johnson & Johnson and Merck & Co. announced commitments to expand in the country. The U.K. is vowing to strengthen the industry amid concerns a sharp break from the European Union or failure to work out a Brexit deal could lead to an exodus of skilled specialists, curb funding and hinder collaboration.

UCB will spend as much as 200 million pounds build a center for research and development, manufacturing and commercial work near Slough, outside London, according to an emailed statement. The new site will replace an existing one in the area. Spending on operations over the next five years will compose the rest of UCB’s investment.

The project will “enable us to build upon our numerous active collaborations with U.K. universities, biotechs and medical-research charities,” Jean-Christophe Tellier, UCB’s chief executive officer, said in the statement.

In a recent survey of more than 1,000 staff members at the Francis Crick Institute, the U.K.’s biggest biomedical research lab, 97 percent of scientists said that a “hard Brexit” would have an adverse impact on U.K. science.

The government said Autolus Therapeutics plans to invest a further 50 million pounds to grow in the country and establish a new headquarters in London. John Bell, the Oxford University scientist tapped by the government to oversee the strategy, said the projects would be a magnet for more investments.

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