Recent governmental report on the UK Life Sciences Sector
A report to the UK government has recently published, with the aim of bringing into focus the next 20 years of UK government policy in the ‘health life sciences’ sector.
In the context of the report, ‘health life sciences’ refers to the application of biology and technology to health improvement; it includes disciplines such as biopharmaceuticals, medical technology, genomics, diagnostics and digital health.
The UK has strong and successful university-based research
The report found that in the UK, as in the US and Scandinavia, a key attribute of the life sciences sector is the great strength of university-based research performed in the country. In comparison, those countries with national research systems based around institutes, such as those in France, Germany and China, were found to not be as productive.
The report therefore concluded that the UK should sustain and increase available funding for basic science, particularly in university settings, and should especially encourage discovery science to co-locate.
Translation of basic life sciences research to the clinic and market could be improved
However, the report highlighted that the UK has a much higher number of scientific publications per patent (80), when compared to other countries i.e. Germany (7) and the US (11). This could indicate that, although successful in early-stage R&D, the UK is not progressing to commercialisation to the extent that could perhaps be expected, when patenting is key to recouping the costs of R&D and funding future developments.
Indeed, the report identified the presence of an important gap between basic scientific discoveries and the clinical application of these discoveries. The translational capabilities of public sector biomedical research organisations from basic research to market were deemed to have been restricted. In part, this was attributed to a lack of appropriate therapeutic molecules and/or devices. Further, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) emerging from UK scientific research are typically acquired at a low-value stage, before they have the opportunity to reach their full potential.
Recommendations include support for later-stage development and scale-up
Thus, the report proposed that a translational fund should be designed to support pre-commercial creation of clinically-useable molecules, in line with existing programmes in the US. It also suggested that new approaches are needed for up-scaling SMEs, to enable them to establish and expand their UK manufacturing base independently and without the need for acquisition to do so.
Finally, the report stated that attracting more manufacturing to the UK requires a conducive and internationally-competitive fiscal environment. One of the fiscal recommendations the report made was to maintain the ‘Patent Box’ and extend its scope to include a wider range of intellectual property.
Response of UK government to date
As a result of the report, the UK government committed, as part of its Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, to giving the life sciences sector £146 million over four years, through a Leading Edge Healthcare Challenge. It will cover multiple projects such as a plan to establish ‘medicines manufacturing innovation centres’. The funding is accessed via a number of ‘competitions’, which include the following:
|Title||Opened (2017)||Closes (2017)||Budget|
|Medicines manufacturing round 1||4 September||01 November||£15 million|
|Precision medicine||11 September||25 October||£6 million|
|Establishing UK treatment centres for advanced therapies||29 September||01 November||£30 million|
|Innovation in health and life sciences round 3||02 October||06 December||£15 million|
|Establishing a UK medicines manufacturing innovation centre||12 October||08 November||£13 million|
|Establishing a UK vaccines development and manufacturing innovation centre||12 October||22 November||£66 million|
|Viral vector production for cell and gene therapies||23 October||15 November||£16 million|
In the week commencing 17 October 2017, a select committee of the House of Lords began taking evidence from companies (both large organisations and SMEs) and regulators, in relation to the UK government’s life sciences strategy and Brexit’s impact on the industry.