UK drugmakers are in good shape but the warning signs are there that their health is a little fragile, according to a report published by the Industry’s association.

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry’s annual review notes that investment in R&D in 2003, the last year for which figures are available, slipped 3% from the previous year to around £3.2 billion pounds, while capital expenditure fell to £753 million, compared with an average over the past five years of £925 million.

NHS expenditure on branded drugs, meanwhile, is also falling. In the first two months of 2005, prices of new treatments dropped 5%, and 2.2% fewer were prescribed, amounting to a £50 million decrease in NHS spending. Furthermore, the ABPI notes that the market share for medicines launched within the past five years in Britain is only 16%, compared with 28% in the USA and the UK figures compare unfavourably with Spain, Canada, Australia, Switzerland, Germany, France, Italy and Japan.

The association’s president, Vincent Lawton, said: “While the UK-based Industry remains highly successful… there are nevertheless some worrying signs.” The dip certainly has something to do with “the continuing threat posed by animal extremists,” he added, claiming that “it also provides a warning that the Industry should not be over-burdened with bureaucracy – it is the most highly regulated industry in the country.”

Mr Lawton went on to say that “the increasingly competitive nature of the global market means that the industry cannot rest on its past achievements but needs to move with the times.” He also spoke about the continuing problem of parallel imports, “which undermine the success of the research-based industry while contributing only minor price benefits to the NHS,” and the costliness and bureaucracy surrounding clinical trials in the UK compared with many countries abroad.

“There are challenges to national competitiveness of which European nations must be aware, including over-regulation and parochial thinking, that is at odds with the global nature of the pharmaceutical industry,” he concluded.