Pfizer closure a ‘UK body-blow’

2nd February 2011

IChemE ceo David Brown has described the closure of drug company Pfizer’s UK base in Kent as a body-blow to British science and innovation.

2,400 jobs are expected to be lost as a result of the closure and Brown says that the skills represented in the Pfizer workforce are the types that are crucial to the UK economy.

Brown’s comments echo those made by Richard Pike, chief executive of the UK Royal Society of Chemistry earlier today on BBC Radio 4's Today programme. Pike described the news as ‘a real disaster’.

Speaking on the flagship programme, Pike said “There are three very important things that have been happening recently. Many patents for well known drugs are coming to the end of their period. Companies are therefore losing that income stream. Secondly there is a lot of competition globally and thirdly, companies are restructuring accordingly.

“What you see in the UK is like a supply chain of R+D, trials and production and, whereas before companies integrated across those activities, now they’re splitting up into smaller ones,” said Pike.

He also warned that a skills shortage could be partly to blame for the decline, alongside market costs and changes to global markets.

Brown says that he supports Pike’s comments and that industry needs to become better networked as the manufacturing landscape evolves: “The greater reliance outside of the big pharmaceutical companies for new discoveries will mean that industry must have better links with spin-outs and universities. Big companies will need to get better at working with smaller agile partners.

“Companies have to pay much more attention to reducing costs, improving efficiency and moving new drugs into commercial use once they have regulatory clearance. This places an added importance on the biology of drug discovery and on the engineering expertise required to convert the science into business success,” says Brown.

Brown also welcomed the input of UK science minister David Willetts but warns that government must be smarter in understanding and encouraging science R&D in the UK, calling for greater emphasis on the relevant areas in universities and less red tape for companies.“It’s good to see the science minster taking action and even better to see the prime minister taking notice too. Let’s hope that this is the start of a much greater engagement between David Cameron (UK prime minister) and the science and engineering community,” says Brown.

Willetts says that the government is considering whether the Kent facility - which he described as ‘fantastic’ - could be used as a science research park and said that Pfizer is willing to help find innovative, alternative uses for the site.