Britain’s second largest drugmaker AstraZeneca has announced it will expand its existing site in Macclesfield in Cheshire. This will give a much needed boost to the UK’s £60bn life science industry.

AstraZeneca made the announcement this month at the time the government is set to launch its industrial strategy for the life sciences sector at a meeting in Birmingham.

This investment, worth tens of millions of pounds, will fund technical improvements at its packing site in Macclesfield, Cheshire. The site packages breast cancer drugs including AstraZeneca’s flagship product Zoladex. The factory is worth £150m and employs around 1,800 at the site.

A spokesperson for the drugmaker confirmed the boost was “part of our ongoing investment in the UK”. However, AstraZeneca are holding off investing in manufacturing until the government’s position on Brexit becomes clearer. In July, the company’s chief executive, Pascal Soriot said the company would “wait to see” before committing itself to further investment in Britain due to uncertainty following the UK’s vote to leave the EU, and largely over the uncertainty over drug regulations for new medicines.

Brexit fallout

Drugmakers are concerned approval for new drugs will take longer following Brexit which will have a knock-on effect on patients. The EMA will more likely prioritise the approval of drugs for the larger population pool of the EU rather than the proportionately smaller UK, and British patients could suffer as a result. The relocation of the EMA to another country in the EU could mean redundancies for staff who wish to remain in the UK, as well as loss of business for the local economy which was boosted by the many oversees visitors to the EMA. Brexit has also dealt a blow to research and development with the announcement of two major research organisations losing much of their projects to the new host when the EMA relocates in March 2019.

Further movement out of the UK is planned by GlaxoSmithKline, Britain’s largest pharmaceutical company. The chief executive, Emma Walmsle, has announced plans for significant scaling back of operations including sale of its Horlicks UK brand, closure of the Slough factory where the drink is made, termination of plans for the new biopharmaceutical factory in Cumbria and outsourcing of some manufacturing from its Worthing site in West Sussex with a loss of around 320 jobs in Britain.

Investing in the

UK In terms of AstraZeneca’s commitment to investing in Britain, Mr Soriot announced the company will continue to invest £500m at its headquarters in Cambridge where a new biomedical centre is planned to open in 2018 as the largest global hub for cancer research.

The UK’s life science industry is in need of a cash injection and this month, the pharmaceutical industry called on the government to fund the creation of 4 new centers of excellence for medicines manufacturing in Britain, at a cost of £140m. According to the Medicines Manufacturing Industry Partnership (MMIP), significant investment is need in the areas of diagnostics and packaging, advanced therapy production and small molecule processing, which would also create highly skilled jobs in these areas.

In support of these claims, Andy Evans, chair of the MMIP and Head of AstraZeneca’s Macclesfield operation said: “The UK is already one of the best places in the world to research and develop exciting new medicines for hard-to-treat diseases, but needs to improve when it comes to manufacturing and packaging them ready to go to patients”.