Drugmakers leaving Europe as crisis saps returns
Europe's debt crisis is not only making its citizens poorer, it is also reducing their access to cutting-edge medicines. Cash-strapped governments have slashed drug prices, racked up close to $20 billion in unpaid bills for treatments and are becoming increasingly reluctant to pay for innovation.
So disillusioned drugmakers are cutting back operations in Europe and launching more and more drugs elsewhere - trends that look set to accelerate as they question the case for clinical research in countries that may never pay for their inventions.
The frustration is evident at pharmaceutical giants like Britain's GlaxoSmithKline and Germany's Bayer, both of which have deep manufacturing and research roots in their home markets.
"Europe has unfortunately slipped in terms of its willingness to pay for innovation," GSK Chief Executive Andrew Witty told analysts last week.
"We're now at a point where we have to take the view and I think face the reality that really it's about the US and, excitingly anew, it's about Japan in terms of where innovation should be driven."
It is not as if the United States and Japan are pushovers.
There was protest from Big Pharma on Monday about plans for $364 billion of US healthcare savings over 10 years that industry said could cause massive job losses.
Witty argues, however, there is a widening gulf between attitudes in Europe, which is "stuck in a bad place," and those in the United States and Japan.
Modern drugs for complex diseases like cancer can cost tens of thousands of dollars but may transform outcomes for patients.
The United States in 2010 accounted for 61 percent of all sales of new drugs launched during the preceding five years, while Europe made up just 22 percent, according to IMS Health, which tracks prescription drug sales and trends worldwide.
Witty's comments will resonate, since the boss of Britain's biggest pharmaceuticals group is also the influential head of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (Efpia).
"He doesn't speak up in public unless it's needed. Everybody in the industry thinks the same way - this is a problem that is growing by the day," Richard Bergstrom, director general of the European lobby group, said in a telephone interview.
"The euro crisis has triggered the worst in the national governments. That is what really frustrates CEOs. People in governments don't seem to realize the risks they are taking, both in the short term with supplies and longer term with innovation."