No post-Brexit exit for GSK and AstraZeneca, CEOs will say this week as biopharma rumors swirl

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot (left) and GlaxoSmithKline CEO Andrew Witty are expected to reassure worriers that their companies aren't leaving the U.K. in the wake of Brexit.

Worried that GlaxoSmithKline or AstraZeneca might pull up their U.K. roots in the wake of Brexit? Rest easy, The Times of London reports. Both companies are set to reassure the world this week that they’re staying put.

With longtime British homesteads--and CEOs tapped for input into exit negotiations with the EU--GSK and AstraZeneca didn’t appear to be likely candidates for leaving Britain. Indeed, with the British pound down on the Brexit vote, and big chunks of revenue sourced in the U.S., the companies stand to reap a currency boost to earnings, at least for now.

Plus, AstraZeneca is in the throes of a massive construction project in Cambridge, England, with plans to lay out £330 million on a new R&D hub and headquarters in the university town.

But Brexit has the world antsy. And that means GSK chief Andrew Witty and AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot will speak to the question when announcing company earnings later this week, the Times says.

Despite fears that pharma will be “ravaged” by the exit vote, Britain’s two Big Pharmas will “shrug off the impact of Brexit and confirm they plan to remain based in the U.K.,” the newspaper reported Monday.

The companies’ assurances will come as pundits and industry experts are revisiting the Brexit vote, one month after the result that astonished many. Pharma-watchers and government officials worry that leaving the EU will put Britain at a disadvantage when it comes to retaining scientists and attracting new investment.

According to The Pharma Letter, rumors are swirling that EU pharma executives are already declining job offers in Britain, and EU and U.S. recruiters are fishing for talent leaving the U.K.

“The U.K. has been successful in science and innovation because it attracts excellent talent from overseas and it’s a huge amount of talent,” Dame Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell, president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, told the House of Lords last week (as quoted by Pharma Letter). “They are all very twitchy right now because they do not know what is going to happen. And if good opportunities show themselves elsewhere in Europe they will be off.”

Another worry: Life Sciences Minister George Freeman has been reassigned, and there’s no word who’ll take his place--or whether his position will be filled at all. Freeman had been an advocate for the industry and, after the Brexit vote, established a working group to advise on the EU exit co-chaired by Witty and Soriot. Some industry officials now expect the position to be eliminated.

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) says it’s worried about losing Freeman, who was reassigned as new Prime Minister Theresa May took the government reins. “At a time of great uncertainty for the pharmaceutical industry we are eager to see who will take up the responsibility of progressing the good work that Freeman has started,” the ABPI said, including the steering group, which was tasked with addressing regulatory and funding issues associated with leaving the EU.

The Bioindustry Association believes Freeman won’t be replaced, according to a Monday blog post. The group isn't waiting around, however; according to BioWorld, execs and lobbyists are working on a plan they’ll present to the government Sept. 6. "It is vitally important that we are getting ready as a sector," Steve Bates, CEO of the Bioindustry Association (BIA), said Monday. "We have to stay ahead of the curve and put our issues in an organized fashion to the key people.”

In addition to GSK and AstraZeneca, a variety of other Big Pharmas are participating in that planning, including Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen unit, Pfizer, Merck & Co. and Novartis. According to the BIA blog post, the group will host a “town hall” meeting Wednesday to collect further input.

- check out the Times news
- see the BIA blog post
- read the BioWorld story
- get more from Pharma Letter

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