Japanese pharmaceutical firm, Eisai, has picked the UK as the base for its European headquarters with a hefty investment of £75 million ($135m) in a new facility in Hertfordshire.

The site will house not only the company’s research, clinical development and manufacturing, but also its UK sales and marketing operations, with the creation of 500 jobs. Eisai becomes the first Japanese pharmaceutical company to locate its manufacturing in the UK and, at a press conference, Haruo Naito, President and Chief Executive of Eisai, told reporters: “We believe that Europe is a key growth market to invest in. The UK has an excellent history of science innovation, with a government that sees the pharmaceutical industry as having strategic importance, and a stable industry policy.”

And, with a strong contingent from the Government at the conference, Ian Pearson, Minister of State for Trade, revealed that Eisai had also looked to other countries, including France and Ireland, for a base for its European headquarters.

“I am delighted that Eisai has decided to grow its UK business in such a significant and pioneering fashion,” he noted, telling PharmaTimes Newsonline after the event that it is a very positive story, and shows that the UK can compete amongst its peers in maintaining and building a competitive pharmaceutical industry, with a flux of investment into the country. In the 2004/5 period, there was a record 1,066 investments in the UK, a rise of 30% year on year.

Eisai, which is expecting to record net sales of £2.9 billion and a net profit of £300 million for the year 2005, is focusing its discovery efforts in the fields of neurodegenerative disorders - a traditional stronghold of the firm - and oncology.

Mr Naito spotlighted five compounds in the pipeline, which he called either first in class or best in class. Heading the pack is E2007, which was discovered in the UK and is in Phase II development for Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and migraine, with a filing anticipated in 2008/9. Coming up behind are the oncology candidates E7389 (Ph II) and E7070 (Ph II), E5564 for sepsis (Ph II) and E5555 for cardiac events (Phase II). In the UK, Eisai’s antiepileptic agent rufinamide, licensed from Novartis, is currently under review at the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

With a new focus in the field of cancer, Eisai’s UK Managing Director, Paul Hooper, said that the firm will “eventually” forge a specialist oncology medical sales team but not in the immediate term. It currently has a specialist central nervous system medical sales team.