With growing revenues from Cimzia for rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease, the antiepileptic Vimpat and Neupro for Parkinson’s disease and restless legs syndrome, plus no major patent expiries imminent, UCB is feeling bullish and not averse to flagging up a few home truths for drug regulators and the UK government.

Chief executive Roch Doliveux, speaking at UCB’s UK headquarters in Slough at a meeting to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Belgian company’s acquisition of Celltech, noted that the firm has the second most productive late-stage pipeline of all global biopharmaceutical companies. However he warned that while the strength of UK life sciences had been a key factor in delivering UCB’s growth, the country could lose this ‘edge’ if current challenges remain unaddressed.

Dr Doliveux (pictured) was critical of the UK’s PPRS scheme and failure to develop value-based pricing, both of which made the country less attractive to innovative pharma. He hopes these issues will be sorted out in the next round of negotiations, saying “this is a big issue for the UK and for UK citizens who get access to innovation later than people from continental Europe or the USA”.

Dr Doliveux added that he approves of the UK taxation structure and long-term tax stability but cautioned that government could do more to improve access to capital and to foster greater collaboration between industry and academia.

Ruthless strategy

Ismail Kola, UCB’s president of new medicines, said that UCB’s “ruthless” drug development strategy had been driven by analysis of the inefficiency of the pharmaceutical industry as a whole. Furthermore, he noted that the sector “has been effective, but not efficient in either regulatory or commercial success”.

Dr Kola noted that between 1990 and 1999, 45% of Phase III trials failed with only 11% of Phase I molecules gaining approval. Between 2006 and 2010, 54% of late-stage studies failed with just 5% of Phase I drugs making it to market. Meanwhile development and clinical costs continue to rise, as does the risk of regulatory and commercial failure, and he said the sector had reached an “inflection point” where only the fittest will survive.

UCB’s attrition rate for new molecules is half that of industry average and Dr Kola said this had been achieved by a focus on genetically validated targets, robust target interrogation, building internal translational expertise, translational medicine collaborations plus a proof of concept development paradigm.

“The development paradigm has to change. You have to pick winners and kill losers early,” Dr Kola argued, noting an ongoing shift away from pursuing primary care blockbusters to secondary-care speciality biologics which offer advantages of better efficacy and need smaller sales forces, less direct-to-consumer advertising, and lower cost trials with tailor-made drugs.

He added that UCB’s growing network of academic and industry collaborations would play a key role in the future growth. The company currently has more than 150 collaborative R&D relationships, including more than 30 with other companies and over 70 with leading academic institutions.