UK needs to act to build life sciences sector, say experts

Out-Law News | 17 Nov 2020 | 11:48 am | 2 min. read

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has called on the UK government and industry to take action to ensure the growth and continued health of the life sciences sector.



The CBI said “decisive” action would help the UK deliver better outcomes for patients and drive innovation. In its report, Let’s Get Clinical (41 page / 587KB PDF), it made five key recommendations designed to boost the UK’s position as a life sciences hub.

The CBI said government commitment to the sector had been good overall, but to maintain momentum it was important that the life sciences industrial strategy, first announced in late 2017, is properly integrated into the national industrial strategy.

Life sciences expert Helen Cline of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said the report was timely.

“There are without a doubt challenges and risks ahead as the UK leaves the EU but the potentially positive impact of regaining control of regulation and the opportunity for legislative change that will be possible following the end of transition period could have a positive impact on the life sciences sector,” Cline said.

“Even before Brexit there was a call for greater freedom for the UK to be able to determine its own medical and science policies. Some EU policies including those around biotechnology and data were seen to be hindering innovation and derailing some UK initiatives for example in the context of agriculture and genomics,” Cline said.

“Continuing to implement policies and approaches to drive innovation and support faster access to best-value new medicines and medical technologies all have the potential to solidify the UK’s life sciences leadership role,” Cline said.

The report said the UK’s research base had historically underpinned the life sciences sector’s health and growth, but research and development (R&D) funding needed to be maintained. The CBI said there should be investment in the clinical trials infrastructure to create an end-to-end innovation system.

It proposed the establishment of a national body, Accelerate UK, to bring all the existing strands of the system together. The body would have strategic responsibility for innovation adoption across UK business and signal the importance of innovation adoption, which the CBI said would address a “policy blind spot”.

Meanwhile the report also proposed that a UK Advanced Research Projects Agency should be set up, with long-term funding to catalyse regional growth. The agency would develop products with a clear consumer focus and be part of a high-reward innovation culture.

Although the CBI said the UK had a high-quality regulatory and tax system, it said the R&D tax credit system should be broadened in scope to reflect modern research practices and build a level playing field.

The report also recommended a “radical” reform of the Apprenticeship Levy into a more flexible Skills and Training Levy that will support business to invest more in their people.

It said more had to be done to improve the NHS’s procurement processes and catch up international rivals in areas such as medicines uptake, innovation and medtech investment. The CBI called for the ethical use of NHS data to incentivise patient-centric breakthroughs, as well as leveraging innovation body, the Accelerated Access Collaborative, to ensure that new medicines, diagnostics and medical technologies are available on the NHS more quickly.

The CBI said the Covid-19 pandemic had highlighted the connection between a strong life sciences sector and a resilient economy, but other countries’ initiatives were showing the extent of global competition in the sector which it said would only intensify.

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