The UK Government has recently pushed a number of pharma manufacturing incentives, from the tax-beneficial ‘patent box’ which saw GSK invest £370m ($540m) at a plant in Cumbria in 2012, to the opening of a £38m National Biologics Manufacturing Centre last year.
Speaking at the Biotrinity Event in London this week, the UK’s first minister for life science George Freeman MP said the Government is fully behind homegrown pharma and biopharma production, and cited Britain’s complex manufacturing expertise as a differentiator.
“Precision manufacturing expertise is crucial to delivering more medicines and to keep the value here in the UK so we are going to invest in it,” he told delegates, citing a visit to AstraZeneca’s manufacturing site in Macclesfield – about 20km south of Manchester – last year, and his subsequent report to the Cabinet, the UK Government’s collective decision-making body .
“One company, one factory, one drug equals 1% of UK goods exports,” he said he told his fellow ministers. “And that’s an off-patent drug.”
“The reason it’s still holding an 80% of sales is because the manufacturing of the drug, the packaging, the syringe, the labelling, and all of that is not easily reproducible in a Chinese or Indian factory.”
The site manufactures a number of AstraZeneca’s small molecule drugs, and while Freeman did not say which product he was referring to, the site houses the sole facility for the global production of Zoladex (goserelin).
The prostate cancer drug, administered through subcutaneous injection, lost its exclusivity a number of years ago but remains unchallenged on the market.
Site manager Tony Broughton told this publication in 2013 Zoladex production is “a difficult, complex, multi-stage process which is – though refined over years – still fairly manual” and its manufacture would never be outsourced.
However, Zoladex clocked in sales last year of $820m, representing far less than the 1% of goods export Freeman claimed (in 2014 merchandise exports stood at $506bn, according to the World Trade Organisation).
AstraZeneca’s cardiovascular drug Crestor (rosuvastatin), however, saw global sales of just over $5bn in 2015 though this is facing ongoing competition. The API is made at AstraZeneca’s site in Avonmouth, Bristol but the loss of exclusivity led the firm to earmark the facility for closure in December 2014.