Global comparator data signal “alarm bells” for UK Government, says APBI

Market Access

Latest UK Life Sciences Competitive Indicators “ought to ring alarm bells across Government,” says ABPI.

Despite the UK’s potential as an international life sciences leader, it lags many competitors in a number of key metrics, including access to new medicines and global share of clinical trial recruitment.

Richard Torbett, chief executive at the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) said Life Sciences Competitive Indicators (LSCI) data published last week “ought to ring alarm bells across Government”.

“While we have great strengths and enormous potential to grow life sciences in this country, we are falling behind our global competitors when it comes to crucial areas like the use of diagnostics, patient uptake of new medicines, recruitment to clinical trials, and pharmaceutical exports,” he told pharmaphorum.

Access to medicines

The data compare the UK to countries with similar levels of economic development, where the appropriate data are available.

They show that England was sixth and Scotland tenth out of 13 countries when ranked according to the percentage of new medicines made available to patients. Of all products approved by the European Medicines Association (EMA) between 2017 and 2020, 68% are currently available in England, a figure that stands at 54% in Scotland.

For those that have been green lit, the median time between marketing authorisation and availability to patients was 296 days in England and 384 days in Scotland. This places England sixth and Scotland tenth of the 13 countries assessed.

In addition, the median time between regulatory approval and the first patient receiving a first dose was 247 days in 2020 – an increase of 25 days since 2018.

The news comes weeks after researchers found patients across Europe were already waiting longer than their American counterparts for access to new cancer drugs. The paper, by a team from Imperial College London, concluded that the FDA gave the go ahead to 95% of the 89 products approved between 2010 and 2019 before EMA, with the Europeans trailing the Americans by a median of 241 days.

In terms of access to diagnostics, the UK had a substantially lower number of MRI, CT, and PET scanners than most comparators. With 16.5 scanners per million population, it was ranked last out of all 16 comparator countries, and the 174.5 scans performed per million population placed the UK twelfth out of 13.

This is particularly pertinent in light of the current difficulties being faced by the NHS. According to data compiled by the Nuffield Trust, as of January 2022, 30% of referred patients, or 434,996 people, had been waiting six weeks or more for one of 15 “key diagnostic tests”, which included imaging alongside physiological testing, and endoscopy.

“While we have great strengths and enormous potential to grow life sciences in this country, we are falling behind our global competitors when it comes to crucial areas like the use of diagnostics, patient uptake of new medicines, recruitment to clinical trials, and pharmaceutical exports.”


Clinical trials and exports

The ABPI also expressed concerns around the UK’s research performance, pointing to LSCI data showing the UK’s global share of clinical trial recruitment had shown little sign of improvement in recent years. Between 2012 and 2020, it averaged 3% each year, whereas Spain’s share, for example, had increased from 2.6% to 4.3% in the same period.

The association also said that the UK’s exports and imports of pharmaceutical products were notably lower than those of the majority of comparators.

In 2020, exports were valued at $25.9bn, placing the UK ninth out of 20 countries, and imports at $26.8bn, meaning a ranking of tenth out of 20. These values have seen a year-on-year decline since 2016 for exports and 2015 for imports, in contrast with a general upward trend seen in most comparator countries, said the ABPI.

Looking ahead to the impending Conservative leadership election, Torbett called on whoever topped the polls to take heed of the figures.

“It is critical that under a new Prime Minister, ministers across Government take an urgent look at how to reverse these trends and ensure that the life sciences sector is in a position to drive the UK’s economic recovery,” he said.

R&D success

For their part, Ministers have highlighted LSCI figures that show the UK leading in areas such as research and development (R&D), where it was placed third out 15 for the percentage of GDP the Government allocated to health research.

“The UK government’s budget for health R&D was £2.7bn in 2020, accounting for 0.12% of GDP, behind only the USA and Japan,” said Lord Martin Callanan, minister for business, energy, and corporate responsibility at the time of the data compilation, and Lord Syed Kamall, minister for technology, innovation, and life sciences, in a joint foreword to the document.

They also said 2022 marked the first year that the LSCIs have presented data on percentage of newly approved medicines made available to patients.

“Since then, NHS England have launched an Innovative Medicines Fund, with £680m ringfenced funding to support ever earlier access to new products,” they explained, adding that “the embrace of innovation is fundamental to the long-term sustainability of the NHS and to delivering better outcomes for patients”.

They go on to say that the data are a crucial tool in the delivery of the Government’s commitments to the life sciences sector.

“The LSCIs are critical for measuring the elements of the life science ecosystem that are required to tackle the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in the UK.

“Government is committed to continuing to deliver on the commitments set out in the Life Sciences Vision. This report enables us to assess our progress to date, and we are certain that next year’s publication will continue to demonstrate our success.”


About the author

Amanda BarrellAmanda Barrell is a freelance health and medical education journalist, editor and copywriter. She has worked on projects for pharma, charities, and agencies, and has written extensively for patients, HCPs and the public.