LONDON ¿ The U.K. biopharmaceutical sector has shown an annual growth rate of 40 percent in its staff numbers over the last three years, and now employs 8,000 to 10,000 people, or 25 percent of the U.K. bioscience work force, according to a report published by the BioIndustry Association (BIA). This contrasts with the bioscience industry as a whole, which has been growing at 20 percent per annum and now employs between 35,000 and 40,000 people in 460 companies.

The industry is on the verge of a new phase of growth, in which the predominant focus will be on the manufacturing and marketing of its products. As a result, there is a shift of emphasis in the allocation of funds into the later phases of the product development cycle.

Another sign of the march to maturity is the increasing size of companies. In biopharmaceuticals, the number of companies with fewer than 50 employees fell from 70 percent to 57 percent. The rate of start-ups is being maintained.

John Sime, chief executive of the BIA, said, ¿The report highlights the growing importance of the bioscience sector to the U.K. economy. We have developed a lead in Europe in biotechnology.¿

The report surveyed 150 companies from all sectors of the industry over four years. While they are optimistic about the future, many of the companies are worried that lack of finance, coupled with misunderstanding or ignorance of biotechnology by prospective customers, will create a barrier to growth.

The distribution of drugs in development in the biopharmaceutical sector shows that 33 percent are targeted at immune system diseases; 25 percent at cancer; 15 percent at metabolic disorders; 10 percent at infectious diseases; and five percent at cardiovascular and central nervous system diseases. The 50 companies in the survey estimate they will bring 10 to 18 new drugs to the market between 2000 and 2003.

However, the companies are still very much technology-led, with factors such as lack of manufacturing or supply-chain capability considered unimportant, and business strategy in general hardly rated as a factor in maintaining competitiveness. The report says that, while this may be because products are still in early to mid development phase, ¿It should be noted that, if a company waits until late in development to consider such issues, [this] might lead to a delay in market entry.¿

Sime commented, ¿As well as providing the most detailed snapshot yet available of the size and complexity of U.K. bioindustry, this study shows, in sub-sector after sub-sector, the same factors surfacing as barriers to business development and expansion: perceptions of scarcity of resources [and] of overly skeptical customers and extreme market-price sensitivity.¿ n