Sir Tom McKillop, chief executive of AstraZeneca, has threatened to move some of the company’s operations from the US to Asia if the issue of drug reimportation in the US market is not resolved, according to a report in UK newspaper, The Daily Telegraph.

The USA is the world’s largest market for pharmaceuticals, and the Industry is concerned that a flood of cheap parallel imports from Canada and other foreign countries could undermine its profitability and the ability to invest in the R&D needed to bring new medicines to market.

Sir Tom told the BioVision World Life Sciences Forum in Lyons, France, last week that there is a risk that the USA could catch “the European disease”, arguing that Europe’s drug industry lost its leading position in the world because countries embraced parallel imports to help cut healthcare spending.

His comments come at a time when the USA is seeing bipartisan efforts by senators to introduce a bill that would legalise access to re-imported medicines, which is technically illegal under current US law. Some states, notably Illinois, Vermont, Wisconsin and Minnesota, have already set up cross-border measures to get access to lower-priced Canadian medicines [[18/08/04c]], [[26/02/04a]].

China and India are soliciting large pharmaceutical groups to establish operations, said Sir Tom, adding: “they are rubbing their hands” because the industry is facing difficult times in the west.

AstraZeneca, which is currently Europe’ third-largest drugmaker after GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi-Aventis, has already set up an R&D centre in Bangalore, India, and has a large drug production facility in China which makes it one of the biggest outside pharmaceutical investors in that country.