Eisai’s ambitious plans for leadership of the European epilepsy market were unveiled this week at the opening of a new production facility at the company’s £100 million EMEA research and commercial headquarters in Hatfield, UK.

Coming just a week after the UK and EU launch of Eisai’s new epilepsy treatment Fycompa (perampanel), the Hatfield site will supply European markets and be the company's springboard for moving into new markets such as Russia, Saudi Arabia, the Middle East and Africa, said Gary Hendler, president of Eisai EMEA & Russia.

Sales of Fycompa – the fourth anti-epileptic drug to be marketed by Eisai – are expected to top $500 million by 2015, rising to $1 billion at peak, helping to take the Japanese pharmaceutical company to pole position in the epilepsy sales league by 2015.

The Hatfield site was opened by the David Willetts, the UK's Minister for Universities and Science. After recent shocks such as the closure of Pfizer’s UK R&D facility at Sandwich, Eisai’s investment represents a turning point; “I think there is now a far more positive atmosphere in the life sciences industry in Britain,” said Mr Willets.

He added that initiatives such as the patent box (which will provide tax incentives to companies registering their intellectual property in the UK) and value-based pricing should help promote further innovation and inward investment by pharmaceutical companies.

Gerd Koenigsmann, deputy chief executive at Eisai Europe,  paid tribute to the "unique" UK life sciences environment which had helped the firm to decide where to base their new global manufacturing site. “Patent box makes the UK more competitive than other countries with similar schemes such as the Netherlands and Belgium,” he said. Mr Hendler added that Eisai would be transferring their IP for Fycompa to the UK and in future would fund more R&D there.

Progress in neuroscience

Eisai’s investment is linked to a comprehensive neuroscience R&D programme focusing on illnesses such as dementia and epilepsy. The company recently presented Phase I data for the Alzheimer’s disease modifying BACE inhibitor E2609, confirming proof of mechanism for preventing amyloid beta, while development of the monoclonal antibody BAN2401 which targets amyloid beta protofibrils is also continuing.

Responding to recent press coverage of a rather gloomy landscape for Alzheimer’s R&D following the failure of several high-profile drugs in trials by other companies, Lee Dawson, head of biopharmacology at the company’s Neuroscience Product Creation Unit, was surprisingly upbeat. He said Eisai’s dementia investment bucked the trend of recent EU neuroscience research closures.

E2609 is slated for Phase II trials in 2013 and is currently looking "very good", he said. Eisai's tau-targeting therapeutic programme will be the ‘next wave’ after amyloid and will take five years to match current amyloid research progress, Dr Dawson added.

Anthony Groom, senior scientist, neuroscience at the Hatfield site, said the AMPA receptor which Fycompa targets is believed to play a role in other diseases such as movement disorders, pain and psychiatric disorders.   Once current epilepsy indications for the product have been expanded, the company will pursue further research into the potential for AMPA blockade in areas such as MS, Parkinson’s Disease, neuropathic pain, migraine, stroke and glioma, he added.