British life sciences to get £160m funding boost

Details of a £160m Government investment in life sciences will be announced later at the launch of an independent review of an industry worth £64bn to the British economy.

The review, by British-Canadian geneticist Sir John Bell, will set out proposals to encourage growth and investment as the Government tries to alleviate concerns about the negative consequences of Brexit on scientific research, academia and the pharmaceutical industry, reports Sky News.

Business Secretary Greg Clark will give details of how £146m of previously announced funding, spread over four years, will support priorities including advanced therapies and medicines, vaccines development and manufacturing.

Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, will pledge £14m to support medical technology research centres intended to encourage collaboration between the NHS and industry.

Launching his “ambitious” report at the University of Birmingham, Sir John will say: “We have created a strategy which capitalises on our strong science base to further build the industry into a globally-unique and internationally competitive life sciences eco-system, supported by collaboration across industry, Government, the NHS, academia, and research funders to deliver health and wealth.”

The report calls for increased funding for basic science; improving growth and infrastructure; encouraging NHS collaboration through early access to new drugs and adopting a plan to invest in skills across the NHS and life sciences.

The Government funding, first announced in the spring, will be available to companies, academic institutions and consortia operating in five priority areas. It will be awarded in a bidding process run by Innovate UK.

Britain has an enviable scientific and medical tradition and a strong pharmaceutical industry, but the vote to leave the European Union prompted grave concerns within industry, academia and the NHS.

The European Union’s Medicine Regulatory Agency is to leave London as a result of the Brexit vote, with 19 EU member nations bidding to host the agency.

Pharmaceutical industry leaders have warned that the MRA’s departure will negatively impact on business and potentially patients in the UK, who may face a longer wait for new drugs as a result.

Universities and academics have also warned that institutions may lose access to EU research budgets as a consequence of Brexit, which could impact on UK research and innovation.

In comments released to the media prior to publication of the report Mr Clark did not address Brexit directly, but said: “The life sciences sector is of critical importance to the UK economy and UK health – with over 5,000 companies, nearly 235,000 employees and a turnover of £64bn in 2016 – and the Government is committed to continuing to help this sector go from strength to strength.”

Mr Hunt said: “The UK has always been at the forefront of scientific excellence. From the discovery of antibiotics to our world-leading 100,000 Genomes project, we have a proud history of medical breakthrough and innovation.

“I want patients to continue to be at the front of the queue for the best treatments available… a strong and growing life sciences sector ensures this, particularly as we negotiate our exit from the EU.”

The Association of British Pharmaceutical Industries (ABPI), which has lobbied for “continuity” in any Brexit deal, welcomed the Government investment in life sciences.

Mike Thompson, chief executive of the ABPI, said: “We look forward to working with Government and other partners to implement these recommendations – including through a sector deal with the bio-pharmaceutical industry and a voluntary agreement on UK medicines policy between industry and the Department of Health.

“These measures will provide confidence for global companies to invest in the UK during and beyond Brexit.”