UK labs play shrinking role in AstraZeneca drug portfolio

Sun May 11, 2014 4:24am EDT
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By Ben Hirschler

LONDON (Reuters) - How British is AstraZeneca? With a French chief executive, Swedish chairman, 40 percent of its sales in the United States and 87 percent of its staff overseas, the answer is not simple.

Formed from an Anglo-Swedish merger 15 years ago, even its roots are only half British. Yet a $106 billion takeover bid from U.S. group Pfizer has forced politicians at Westminster to line up in defense of British jobs and science.

The pharmaceuticals group, which is fighting the approach, is an important science anchor for Britain and has close ties to top universities. However, it gets a dwindling portion of medicines from its UK laboratories.

That reflects the realities of the modern drugs industry, in which companies chase the best science, regardless of geography.

Of the top 10 medicines sold by AstraZeneca, three - all for cancer - were invented in its labs near Manchester, four came from Sweden, one from its U.S. research site, one from the U.S. biotech industry and one from Japan.

The Japanese drug, cholesterol fighter Crestor, was acquired from Shionogi and is now the group's biggest seller.

Future drug sales will rely even less on its British lab work. Only one of the 13 experimental medicines in the pipeline that AstraZeneca management highlighted when it laid out its defense was invented in-house.

The rest flow from acquisitions and licensing deals that AstraZeneca has struck in recent years with U.S. companies such as Pearl Therapeutics, FibroGen and Amgen, as well as some smaller British biotech firms.   Continued...

The logo of AstraZeneca is seen on a medication package in a pharmacy in London April 28, 2014. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth