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Government boost for UK life sciences sector

Amid the Government’s new Industrial Strategy, unveiled by the Prime Minister on Monday 23 January, there is a promise of renewed investment in science, research and innovation and an emphasis on boosting STEM skills. Its positive news for the life sciences sector, but does the Government’s strategy go far enough to promote sustainable growth in the industry and what else could – or indeed, needs – to be done to guarantee the UK remains a world leader in the field?

The Government’s Industrial Strategy has been presented as a critical part of the post-Brexit plan, putting in place a framework to help deliver a stronger economy and secure a prosperous, long-term future for British business and industry.

In his introduction to the accompanying green paper, the Secretary for State, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Greg Clark, states that we must build on the country’s strengths and extend excellence into the future – this is no more so than in the life sciences sector.

The UK already leads the world life sciences community, from pioneering work on genome mapping to the latest cell and gene therapy innovations. But as Clark keenly observes, we cannot take our position for granted. If we fail to invest in the industries that are flying the flag for Britain, we will lose our advantage and others will be quick to take our place.

So, the Government has set aside an additional £4.7bn by 2020-21 in research and development funding (through the new Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund), however the details of how this will be shared out will be subject to consultation. Biotechnology and leading edge healthcare and medicine will be up against clean energy, space and satellite technology, robotics and even 5G mobile networks for its share of the pot, so its impact may not be quite as significant for life sciences as it may have first appeared.

The kind of money which will truly make an impact on the life sciences sector – driving research and development and supporting it with successful commercialisation pathways – will undoubtedly come from private investment. While this is unlikely to be in the same ball park as the billions of dollars pumped into biotech companies in Silicon Valley every year, we need to ensure the UK’s offer adds up to external investors.

Part of this will be to ensure it is economical to invest, move or set up a business here. The green paper makes reference to exploring how the tax environment can be used to drive up investment, a strategy which has certainly worked for other countries like Ireland, and perhaps what was in the offer which secured a future for Nissan in the North East.

As well as being economical to invest in the UK, we also need to ensure we have the right resources in place to sustain growth. This means Universities must continue to attract the world’s best minds to study, teach and remain here, and to offer a sustained contribution to our life sciences economy.  In this respect, the Government’s post-Brexit immigration strategy will surely be more influential than its industrial strategy as the key driver in whether we are able to retain talent once we leave the EU.

Overall, the Industrial Strategy offers some positive news for the life sciences sector – if the Government is able to follow its rhetoric with well researched and implemented solutions, we may well be on the cusp of a golden age for biotechnology in the UK.

Want to join the debate? Read the green paper for yourself at:

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26th January

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