Novartis, world's top drugmaker, plays down Brexit threat

ZURICH, July 19 (Reuters) - Switzerland’s Novartis, the world’s biggest maker of prescription drugs, will continue to invest in Britain, despite the country’s decision to leave the European Union, its chief executive said on Tuesday.

Joe Jimenez also told reporters he expected the European Medicines Agency (EMA), currently based in London, to continue its work on approving new medicines in an “orderly” fashion, even though it is likely to have to move to a new location.

“The UK is an important market for us. There are many countries in Europe, namely Switzerland, which are not in the EU, and we continue to invest in those countries as well as in the EU,” he said in a post-results call.

“We will continue to invest strongly in the UK despite the decision to exit the EU as we see very large areas of unmet medical need and the innovation Novartis brings can help patients in the UK.”

The sanguine comments from Jimenez, who is also president of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations trade body, contrast with concerns expressed by some other pharmaceutical industry executives.

The CEO of Spain’s Almirall, for example, said earlier this month the relocation of the EMA threatened to disrupt the approval of new drugs and represented a medium and long-term concern.

The UK pharmaceuticals trade association has also warned that having Britain outside the EU could undermine future investment, research and jobs in the country.

Depending on the exact EU exit terms, Britain may have to develop its own domestic regulatory system, adding an extra layer of regulation and bureaucracy.

The EMA, Europe’s equivalent the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, currently approves medicines for all European Union countries from its headquarters in London’s Canary Wharf financial district. Other European cities are already vying to be its new home.

Drugmakers also face challenges and uncertainties across the Atlantic, with the U.S. market - the biggest and most profitable for the industry - facing increased pressure on prices.

Jimenez said he was planning for a “more difficult” U.S. pricing environment going forward.

“We all have to plan for new pricing models in the U.S that could help us ensure sustainability of the system as the U.S. population ages. We are planning for a environment where there are not increases in price in the U.S.,” he said. (Writing by Ben Hirschler; Editing by Mark Potter)