R&D spending on drugs falters

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The amount of money spent on drug research and development in the UK has fallen for the first time in two decades, and the industry yesterday blamed animal rights extremists and the emergence of low-cost competition from countries such as China and Singapore.

The amount of money spent on drug research and development in the UK has fallen for the first time in two decades, and the industry yesterday blamed animal rights extremists and the emergence of low-cost competition from countries such as China and Singapore.

Launching its annual report on the health of the domestic industry, the Association of the British Pharmaceuticals Industry demanded tougher government action to counter extremist attacks on employees and new initiatives to encourage clusters of innovative companies around science parks across the UK.

The organisation also hit out at a report by MPs which accused the industry of turning Britain into a "pill for every ill" society, saying its recommendations could encourage drug companies to site new research facilities overseas.

R&D spending in the UK by the global pharmaceutical industry was £3.24bn in 2003, according to the ABPI, down from £3.30bn the previous year. There was also a fall in the "trade balance", the value of exported medicines over the cost of imported drugs.

Vincent Lawton, its president, said: "It is not always easy to identify precisely why so many key areas should have dipped, but it is clear that the continuing threat posed by animal extremists is a contributory factor.... No company can be expected to invest in the UK if the environment here is not sufficiently welcoming."

Last year, GlaxoSmithKline sited a new £30m research facility in Singapore after being offered a string of grants and commitments on training for local scientists.

The Health Select Committee yesterday demanded curbs on drug company marketing practices, blaming the industry for overprescription of antidepressants and other medicines.

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