Transfer Pricing in the Life Sciences: Avoiding Pitfalls and Protecting Profits




This article is a must-read for any life science company engaging in cross-border transactions, particularly those expanding from the UK or Europe into the US market. It provides a comprehensive overview of the special considerations and complexities that life science companies face in transfer pricing, drawing on real-world examples and expert insights.

Don’t miss this opportunity to arm yourself with the knowledge and strategies you need to protect your company’s bottom line and ensure compliance in an ever-changing regulatory landscape.

In an industry where intellectual property (IP) is the lifeblood of innovation and success, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Life science companies must navigate a labyrinth of tax laws, regulatory environments, and industry-specific challenges when it comes to transfer pricing. The consequences of getting it wrong can be severe, from double taxation and significant penalties to reputational damage and disrupted operations.

Key Takeaways

  • The importance of selecting the right transfer pricing method, such as the Comparable Uncontrolled Price (CUP) method, the Transactional Net Margin Method (TNMM), and the Profit Split Method (PSM).
  • How to navigate US-specific regulations, such as the US Treasury Regulations Section 482, and the impact of the 2017 US Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) on transfer pricing strategies.
  • The unique challenges that life science companies face, from the valuation of intangible assets and the allocation of R&D costs to the uncertainty of R&D outcomes and the impact of government price controls.
  • It also explores the role of Advance Pricing Agreements (APAs) in providing certainty and mitigating the risk of transfer pricing disputes.

Navigating Transfer Pricing in the Life Sciences Industry

Transfer pricing is a critical issue for life science companies operating across borders, yet many are unaware of the complex rules and regulations that govern these transactions. For those who are aware, the intricacies and potential pitfalls of transfer pricing are often underestimated, leaving companies vulnerable to costly mistakes and regulatory scrutiny.

“Many UK life science companies are unaware that transfer pricing rules even exist, which
can lead to costly mistakes when expanding to the US.”

Thomas Wells

Thomas Wells

Senior Manager, Frazier & Deeter

Read on to discover essential knowledge and strategies to successfully navigate the complex world of transfer pricing in the life sciences industry:

Valuation of Intangible Assets

Life science companies often possess valuable intangible assets, such as patents, trademarks, proprietary technology, and drug formulas. Assigning an arm’s length value to these assets can be difficult due to their unique nature and the lack of comparable market transactions.

R&D Incentives

Some jurisdictions offer tax credits or incentives for R&D activities which may affect where these activities are conducted and how the costs are allocated.

US-Specific Regulations


Companies must ensure compliance with US-specific transfer pricing regulations, such as the US Treasury Regulations Section 482, which provides guidance on intercompany transactions. These regulations have specific rules for intangible property transactions, services, and cost-sharing arrangements that are relevant to life science companies.

Global Operations

Life science companies often have complex global supply chains with manufacturing, distribution, and sales operations spread across multiple countries. Transfer pricing must be managed at each step to comply with local laws.

Government Price Controls and Reimbursement Policies

The impact of government intervention in drug pricing and reimbursement rates must be considered in transfer pricing analyses, as these factors influence profitability and arm’s length pricing.

Allocation of R&D Costs


The costs of R&D are often shared among various entities within a multinational enterprise. Determining an appropriate method for allocating these costs and any resulting intangible assets can be complex although generally, the costs and subsequent benefits should be allocated according to the arm’s length principle.

Pricing Regulations

Life science products, including drugs and medical devices, may be subject to government pricing regulations in different jurisdictions, which can impact transfer pricing strategies.

US Tax Reform

The 2017 US Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) introduced new provisions that impact transfer pricing strategies, such as the Global Intangible Low-Taxed Income (GILTI) and Foreign-Derived Intangible Income (FDII) rules. Life science companies should assess the impact of these provisions on their transfer pricing policies and consider any necessary adjustments.

Intercompany Services

Many life science companies have centralised functions that provide services to group entities, such as management services, administration and support functions, and these intercompany service arrangements must be priced appropriately.

Tax Audits and Disputes

Life science companies are often subject to tax audits and disputes over transfer pricing arrangements, which can result in significant adjustments and penalties.

Uncertainty in R&D Outcomes

The uncertain nature of R&D in the life sciences sector, where many projects do not lead to a marketable product, adds complexity to the transfer pricing of R&D activities and the valuation of intangible assets.

Regulatory Approval Processes

The process of getting life science products approved can be lengthy and expensive, particularly in the US with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The costs associated with these processes need to be considered in the transfer pricing documentation.

Licensing of IP

Determining an arm’s length royalty rate for licensing agreements can be a challenge due to the lack of comparable uncontrolled transactions, given the unique nature of many life science products.

Market Specificity

Life science companies operate in markets that can be significantly different from one another in terms of pricing, reimbursement, and competitive dynamics. This market specificity can make it difficult to find comparable transactions for benchmarking purposes.

Public Scrutiny

There is often public and governmental scrutiny of life science pricing, and companies must be prepared to defend their transfer pricing policies not only to tax authorities but also to the general public in some cases.

Compliance and Documentation


Maintaining compliance with the evolving international transfer pricing regulations and documenting the arm’s length nature of transactions is
resource-intensive and challenging, especially with increased reporting requirements like country-by-country reporting.

Addressing these challenges typically requires a robust transfer pricing strategy, which should include comprehensive documentation, the application of appropriate transfer pricing methods, and often, the use of advanced pricing agreements (APAs) to obtain certainty from tax authorities.

Given all of these complexities, life science companies should seek specialized advice to ensure that their transfer pricing arrangements comply with international guidelines and local laws, while also considering the economic realities of the life science industry. Proper transfer pricing practices can help minimise the risk of costly tax adjustments and penalties, as well as reputational damage.

“The US transfer pricing landscape is constantly evolving, and staying ahead of the curve is
essential for UK life science companies. As industry experts, we make it our mission to keep
our finger on the pulse of regulatory changes and emerging best practices, so we can
provide our clients with the most up-to-date and effective advice.”

Thomas Wells

Thomas Wells

Senior Manager, Frazier & Deeter

FAQ: US Transfer Pricing for UK Life Science Companies

Why is transfer pricing important for UK life science companies expanding to the US?

Transfer pricing is crucial for UK life science companies expanding to the US, as it directly impacts tax liabilities, compliance risks, and overall financial performance. Proper transfer pricing strategies ensure that companies remain compliant with US regulations while optimizing their tax positions.

What are the key transfer pricing methods for life science companies?

The three main transfer pricing methods for life science companies are the Comparable Uncontrolled Price (CUP) method, the Transactional Net Margin Method (TNMM), and the Profit Split Method (PSM). Choosing the right method depends on factors such as the nature of the transaction, availability of comparable data, and the company’s specific circumstances.

What are the unique transfer pricing challenges faced by life science companies?

Life science companies face unique transfer pricing challenges, particularly in valuing intangible assets and allocating research and development (R&D) costs. These challenges arise due to the complex nature of intellectual property, the global scope of operations, and the constantly evolving regulatory landscape.

How can Advance Pricing Agreements (APAs) benefit UK life science companies in the US?

Advance Pricing Agreements (APAs) can provide certainty and mitigate transfer pricing risks for UK life science companies operating in the US. By proactively negotiating an agreement with the IRS, companies can avoid potential disputes, penalties, and double taxation issues, allowing them to focus on their US expansion with greater confidence.

What should UK life science companies consider when documenting their US transfer pricing?

Robust documentation is essential for UK life science companies to comply with stringent US transfer pricing requirements. Companies should maintain comprehensive and contemporaneous documentation that supports their transfer pricing positions, including functional and economic analyses, industry benchmarks, and intercompany agreements. Effective documentation not only ensures compliance but also provides opportunities to optimize transfer pricing strategies.

Other Useful Resources

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as professional advice. Readers should not rely on any information contained herein as a substitute for professional guidance and should seek independent expert assistance when making decisions related to transfer pricing or US expansion.


Ian Collins
Ian Collins
Ian Collins, with an extensive background spanning over 30 years in business development and general management, co-founded GTM Global in 2015. His experience encompasses hi-tech industries such as security, artificial intelligence, business intelligence, and enterprise software solutions. In his career, Ian has started several tech companies, overseen two corporate ventures, executed a management buy-in, and led two business turnarounds. He has also been involved in buying, selling, and merging various of his companies, and has achieved two successful business exits. Ian's expertise is particularly focused on business growth strategies and leading-edge proposition development.