Glaxo-Wellcome shifts overseas

January 31, 1997

A LEADING British pharmaceutical company now undertakes more than five times as much university collaborative research overseas as it did eight years ago.

Poor infrastructure in British institutions is being partly blamed for Glaxo Wellcome's shift overseas. In 1989 the company, which this year is spending Pounds 10 million on external collaborative research, spent only 5 per cent of its collaborative research budget outside the United Kingdom.

This year, according to Dr Michael Elves, Glaxo Wellcome's director of scientific and educational affairs, this figure has risen to per cent.

He told an open forum at the Society of Chemical Industry that the move reflected the state of the UK university system. Dr Elves cited a number of reasons for the shift, adding that the quality of infrastructure in UK universities was one issue.

He said that Glaxo Wellcome saw UK scientists as essential partners in bringing potential science through to new drugs, but added: "What we see when we look at university colleagues is, in some departments, outdated equipment. Others are up-to-date but are housed in conditions put up 30 years ago. They lack the environment where you could get full results. There is a really serious problem with infrastructure.

"We are an international organisation in an international industry. We have to find our research science and technology in the best centres. We can pick and choose. Where we would hope that this would be in the UK, it is not a foregone conclusion."

His remarks come six months after a national survey by the University of Manchester concluded that clapped-out laboratory equipment was forcing UK companies abroad. The study found that nearly 80 per cent of university science and engineering departments were unable to perform crucial experiments because of a lack of funds for vital equipment.

Dr Elves also told the forum, which was designed as a chance for industry members to discuss the future of higher education in the presence of a Dearing committee representative, that graduates applying for jobs in his company often lacked basic practical skills.

"You have to reckon on spending a significant time on a graduate to get them up to speed to be safe laboratory workers. Class sizes are too big at universities. Practical science costs a lot. But without quality, quantity is not much good."

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