Phamaceutical giant threatens to leave Europe

July 27, 2004

Brussels, 26 Jul 2004

The Chief Executive of Astra Zeneca, one of the world's leading pharmaceutical companies, has warned European governments that unless the EU improves its business environment, the company will move its investment elsewhere.

Sir Tom McKillop's statement came after Martin Nicklassen, head of Astra Zeneca research and development (R&D) complained about the Swedish government's position in an interview on Swedish radio.

In the interview, Mr Nicklassen suggested that Astra Zeneca would leave Sweden, where it has around 5,000 researchers, as a reaction to the government's advice to doctors to prescribe older, cheaper drugs rather than the new drugs developed by Astra Zeneca.

Pharmaceutical companies have often complained about Europe's policy of price control, as well as restrictions placed on producers. The companies favour the US market where drugs are priced and prescribed, not by regulators, but in a way that reflects market forces.

'If you look at the history of industry, where it is not welcome and does not have a receptive market, there will be a loss of competitiveness,' said Sir Tom. 'It is for Europe to decide whether it wants to be in the high technology business or not.'

Europe's high technology is 'going backwards' he added. 'The US is doing handsomely in high technology and I'm not just talking about pharmaceuticals'.

Recently, the Chairman of Pfizer, Dr Hans McKinnel, also blamed European healthcare regulators for damaging the industry in Europe, while others have warned that they will move research away from Europe if the environment does not change.

In a separate development, three Italian researchers, led by Laura Cipollina from the Salvatore Maugeri IRCCS institute, have called for European governments to tackle the divide in pharmaceutical innovation between the EU and the US with an incentive-based policy. The three scientists carried out a study focusing on six countries - the US, the UK, Germany, Spain, France and Sweden. They warned that innovative drugs still fail to reach European markets.

CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities

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