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UCB in 'dynamic mode' as work begins at new biologics research centre

Published on 31/07/09 at 03:39pm

 

UCB has opened its new biologics research centre in the UK, marking an investment of £25 million for the growing company.

The Slough site will be used to develop therapeutic antibodies, expanding on UCB's existing capabilities in the area. It also follows a recent string of product approvals for the Anglo-Belgian group.

Chief executive Roch Doliveux said: "The opening of this site today secures UCB's position as a top-tier investor in UK research and development. The additional capabilities of the new centre enable us to compete on an increasingly competitive world stage, and will help us achieve our ultimate goal of delivering more and better treatments for patients suffering from severe diseases."

UCB is the fourth-largest investor in UK pharmaceutical research and development, after GSK, AstraZeneca and Pfizer. UCB, a smaller-scale player, last year spent £200 million in the country.

The new lab will eventually house over 100 scientists, adding to the company's existing research operation in Slough.

It means around 40% of UCB's overall research will now be done in the UK, with the remainder carried out at its headquarters in Belgium.

The company's UK research will focus on immunology, whereas that in Belgium explores central nervous system therapies. Some work in the new UK lab began at the end of last year, including new research on one product candidate for osteoporosis.

Lord Drayson, UK minister of state for science and innovation, was guest of honour at the opening ceremony for the new centre. He said: "UCB's new R&D facility in Slough will create jobs and boost capacity in an industry where the UK is a global leader. We have a world-class pharmaceuticals sector. The government is determined that we remain the location of choice for international firms like UCB."

UCB achieved annual sales of more than 3.6 billion euros (£2.6bn) in 2008. Doliveux said the company currently reinvests the equivalent of 25% of its sales revenue back into R&D, far higher than the industry average of 15%.

Doliveux said this investment would reap rewards in terms of the scientific talent it will attract. "Great scientists attract great scientists. So I am expecting more to come, and more collaborations," he said.

The company was last year boosted by a remarkable seven regulatory approvals, six regulatory filings and four major new product launches. Its brightest hope is Cimzia (certolizumab pegol), now approved for rheumatoid arthritis in Europe and the US. The drug is the latest entrant in the anti-TNF class of drugs, and UCB will have to fight hard for market share against more established players.

Doliveux said Cimzia is already UCB's flagship brand. He said its success, and the expansion in biologics, has put UCB into "dynamic mode". The company will soon be consulting Europe's regulators to see what must be done for Cimzia's approval in Crohn's, and has plans to seek marketing approvals for the rest of world in both Crohn's and rheumatoid arthritis.

Doliveux said he will continue to expand and build in the UK: "I don't intend for us to stop here."

CIMZIA AND THE FUTURE

The last few years have seen UCB transform itself into a medium-sized biopharmaceutical specialist company with revenues of 3.6 billion euros in 2008.

Founded in Belgium in 1928, UCB originally focused on the chemicals market, with a small pharmaceutical unit. By the 1950s, it moved into prescription medicines, and in 1987 it launched hayfever treatment Zyrtec, which was followed by epilepsy treatment Keppra in 1999.

The acquisition of the UK biotech company Celltech in 2004 was a key development for the company, providing UCB with cutting-edge biotech R&D expertise, to complement its existing pharma base.

The company followed this up in 2006 with the acquisition of Schwarz Pharma. Its most notable product was Neupro (rotigotine) a treatment for Parkinson's disease which gained an additional licence to treat restless legs syndrome in 2008.

The loss of revenues from Keppra (US patent expiry December 2007) and Zyrtec (November 2008) helped prompt a major restructuring and cost-cutting programme, dubbed SHAPE. This has helped the company reorganise itself into a specialist biopharma company, and improve its competitiveness and profitability. By early 2009 the company had reduced its workforce by 17% - around 10,000 employees.

Immunology and CNS focus

The company now focuses on severe diseases within immunology and the central nervous system (CNS).

UCB currently has 11 compounds in development, including four large, antibody-based molecules and seven small, chemically-derived molecules.

But the company has also experienced a recent run of pipeline success. It had seven regulatory approvals, six regulatory filings and four major new product launches in 2008.

Meanwhile, three new molecular entities are providing the fuel for the company's future growth.

These include Vimpat, now launched in the EU and US as an add-on treatment for epilepsy in adults launched in October last year.

Keppra has also just been approved as an adjunct treatment of partial-onset seizures in infants and children aged between one month and four years old.

Cimzia

The company looks to be on the verge of a new stage of growth, thanks in large part to Cimzia. Some analysts predicting peak sales forecasts of over $2 billion for the drug.

Cimzia (certolizumab pegol) is now set for its first approval in Europe, following CHMP recommendation in June for use in rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Cimzia was launched in the US for the treatment of Crohn's disease in April 2008, and was approved for RA in May this year.

The company is still trying to gain approval for the drug in Crohn's in Europe, having twice been refused as the regulator said it lacked sufficient evidence to back up its safety profile.

Cimzia enters the already crowded anti-TNF market. In Crohn's disease, Schering-Plough and J&J's Remicade is the current leader, followed by Humira from Abbott and Wyeth/Amgen's Enbrel.

Another new entrant to the market is J&J's Remicade follow-up Simponi, now approved in the US for RA, active psoriatic arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis.

UCB experienced a setback with its candidate CDP323, an oral small molecule alpha4 integrin inhibitor for relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis. UCB was working on the drug with Biogen Idec but decided to abandon it after disappointing results in phase II.

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