GSK, Pfizer, AstraZeneca collaborations tilt U.K. academics to Big Pharma

Professor Dame Ann Dowling

GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) has been thwarted time and again in its quest to develop a new blockbuster medication. But it's always maintained a high profile in academia, looking for multiple ways to tie up with leading researchers in the U.K. in pursuit of a major breakthrough. Just days ago the pharma giant signed the first big deal with the Francis Crick Institute. And now a high-profile examination of the state of play of partnering in academic research circles, the Dowling Report, says Glaxo is the single largest collaborator with academia in the U.K., for any industry.

Big pharma in general dominated the top 5 collaborators in the country. U.S.-based Pfizer ($PFE), which was hissed in the U.K. after it made an unsuccessful bid for AstraZeneca last year, took the third spot on the top 40 list. And AstraZeneca ($AZN) came in right behind Pfizer, in the number four position.

Professor Dame Ann Dowling drew up the rankings, pointing to a complex set of support groups coordinating academic research that could stand a little simplification.

The report highlights the country's widely admired rep for deep thinking in its scientific circles. While no one disputes the U.K.'s scientific heft, or the large amount of drug research underway in the country with two major developers based in the Golden Triangle of London, Cambridge and Oxford, middle tier biotech companies which would make natural academic spinouts have been few and far between. But a new set of local investors, joining hands with a transatlantic crew of venture capitalists, has begun to make headway.

Glaxo won't be surprised by its leadership position, and AstraZeneca won't have a hard time explaining its position in the top 5. (AstraZeneca may have been given short shrift in the report. Its biotech subsidiary, MedImmune, is listed separately in the top 40, for some reason.)

Pfizer, though, stands to benefit the most in terms of PR value. Ever since it dramatically reduced its presence in the U.K. by downsizing in Sandwich, the pharma giant has had to deal with a reputation for cutthroat behavior. That rep came back and bit CEO Ian Read last year, when his takeover bid for AstraZeneca raised fears of further cuts in biopharma, spurring added opposition that helped scuttle the megabuyout. Now it's being cheered as the country's largest foreign scientific collaborator.

You'll also find a few other foreign pharma groups in the top 40 of this report. Novartis came in 7th, Bayer was in the number 12 spot followed by Roche, then UCB Celltech, ag biotech Syngenta, Eli Lilly, Janssen, Sanofi, Merck, Novo Nordisk and J&J, which also was listed separately from its R&D group. That makes 14 of the top 40.

- here's the report