GSK boss urges rivals to set up in the UK

Sir Andrew Witty says pharma clusters will fend off overseas competition
  • @mrjamesashton

The boss of Britain's biggest drugs company is urging competing firms to locate here to boost the country's life sciences industry.

Sir Andrew Witty, the chief executive of GlaxoSmithKline, wants the nation to attract new investment so it can keep at bay countries trying to build their own pharmaceuticals sectors, such as Switzerland, Germany, India and South Korea.

Sir Andrew, who sits on David Cameron's business advisory council, said the places where GSK concentrates its investment – Britain and the Delaware Valley and North Carolina in the US – pooled academic research with large firms and plenty of start-up ventures.

"We like those clusters, because there is staff movement between companies, ideas get generated, technology is shared," he said.

"The UK is like that, it was more like that 30 years ago, and it would be great if it could go back a little that way. Britain is still in the first division in our sector, but there are some rapidly up-and-coming competitors. Britain cannot rest on its laurels."

Sir Andrew is a fan of the Government's life sciences strategy, including the "patent box" measure which allows firms to pay a lower rate of tax on profits generated from UK-owned intellectual property.

GSK pledged in March to open its first British factory in 40 years in Cumbria as part of a £500m investment that will create up to 1,000 jobs. It was a shot in the arm for the industry a year after Viagra-maker Pfizer announced it was to quit its Kent base.

But, Sir Andrew is pressing for reforms to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, which assesses new drugs before they can be brought to market.

"We want to see a more sustainable solution to how innovation actually gets used in the UK. It revolves around how Nice operates. We understand there needs to be a proper analysis of information, but nobody feels we have got to a long term situation where new technologies have been made available to patients quickly enough."