Danish drug behemoth to make huge investment in Oxford

The Danish drug company Novo Nordisk will invest £115 million over the next ten years in a new science research centre to be based in Oxford.

The facility, which will work on new treatments for type 2 diabetes will employ roughly 100 academics and scientists.

David Gauke, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, described the decision to invest in the UK as “a vote of confidence in the UK’s position as a world-leader in science and research”.

The Danish company claimed the attraction came from Oxford’s history of “excellence”. The company told the BBC that Brexit had made them think twice about their decision. Mads Thomsen, Novo Nordisk’s executive vice-president and chief science officer said: “Obviously we think the Brexit decision was unfortunate. That being said, Oxford University has been around for 800 years so the academic excellence and our company’s ability to turn that into medicines hasn’t really changed.”

Whilst the company chose to go ahead with its investment after Brexit, other drug companies have been scared out of the UK. The European Medicines Agency, responsible for the scientific evaluation, supervision and safety monitoring of medicines developed by pharmaceuticals companies for the EU is likely to leave the UK.

Since 1995 it has employed 900 people in its base in Canary Wharf. Thomsen expressed hope that its success would mean staff would follow the company. She added “It is in everyone’s interest that there is as little disruption as possible for the journey of new medicines to patients.”

In their new centre, Novo Nordisk plans to separate the biological research facility from that of drug production. The former will be done in Oxford and new drugs and treatments will be manufactured in Denmark.

Thomsen also told the BBC that whilst Oxford University will get some reward for any success, the majority of the commercial profit would go to the company.

He added: “You have to bear in mind the investment behind a new successful medicine is typically £500m which is mostly expensed by the company.”

The investment from Novo Nordisk comes in the wake of other investments from foreign investors in the top British universities. A fund created to commercialise research at Oxford announce in November an additional £300m of funding from China, Singapore and Oman.

Whilst there continues to be investment from UK investors like Neil Woodford, who actively invests in UK science, the majority of investment comes from abroad. The Vice-Chancellor of Oxford, Louise Richardson recently claimed that UK investors “would come to regret” their reluctance to invest.

Whilst academics like Richardson welcomed the incoming investment, other critics pointed to the dangers of associating large commercial success with the approval of ‘blockbuster drugs’.