Novartis is holding a meeting with the UK Government and NHS representatives in London this week to discuss Britain’s approach to research.

Jon Symonds, global finance director of Novartis, will say at the meeting that Britain is “losing competitiveness to emerging markets and Asia”, according to the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph. The meeting will take place tomorrow and has been in planning for more than a year.

Symonds told the publication that while the UK has made “great strides” in supporting life sciences, the government must be more radical and move faster. He said bringing a drug to an NHS trust, securing clinical trials and getting approval, is inefficient and takes too long.

“It should be a seamless process but instead it takes an enormous amount of time and energy, during which we lose money,” he told the newspaper. He reiterated the point that it can cost $1 billion to bring a new drug to market, but as they are working within a limited patent life, any delays to market can shorten the prospective revenue of a drug.

Yet NHS trusts are often slow to take-up new drugs or help organise trials, the Swiss firm said.

But when asked whether Novartis would be pulling out of the UK, Symonds said the firm had no plans to leave the country.

The firm has, however, already made cuts to its main UK centre in Horsham. The company halved the number of positions at its plant in West Sussex this year, and has scheduled to close the manufacturing and production element of the site entirely by September 2013.

But the company has promised to maintain a limited R&D presence at Horsham, which focuses primarily on research into respiratory conditions.

Government creating solutions to long-held problems

The issues raised by Symonds are by no means new, with AstraZeneca and Pfizer already withdrawing large segments of their R&D capabilities away from the UK to Asia and other emerging markets as they streamline their businesses.

Pharma has also long bemoaned slow uptake of medicines in the UK, but the government has made large and important strides in meeting these problems head on. This includes the NICE Scorecard, which will name and shame NHS bodies not making NICE-approved medicines available to patients within three months of guidance being issued. 

In its life sciences strategy, published in December last year, the UK Government also announced it would establish an early access to medicines scheme, which could potentially allow drugs to brought into the UK market after completing mid-stage trials. There is also hope that value-based pricing, due to come into force in 2014, will help improve access to innovative medicines.

The ABPI, BIA and the NIHR held a joint conference just last week discussing the need for further help in cutting red tape in R&D and speeding up access to medicines, but acknowledged that the UK Government does understand what the industry requires.

Reporter's note: this story was originally based on an interview given to The Daily Telegraph - it has now been updated with greater context and information given to PharmaTimes UK News from Novartis UK.