Dementia, cancer headline UK's 10-year plan for life sciences sector

Building a better future for people with rare diseases in all four UK nations

The UK's long-awaited Life Sciences Vision strategy has been published, setting out the government's stall as it tries to deliver on its promise to keep the country at the forefront of the sector.

The document published today lays out seven healthcare "missions" for the UK's industry as it tries to double down on the success of the COVID-19 response, and solve some of the biggest healthcare problems such as cancer and dementia.

The document has received a warm welcome from industry bodies, including the BioIndustry Association (BIA) and Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) which both contributed to the development of the strategy.

ABPI chief executive Richard Torbett said it is an "ambitious…blueprint for how the UK can become a global hub for life sciences and, in turn, a science superpower."

The publication comes just after a BIA report revealed that the UK's biotech companies attracted record investment of almost £1.6 billion ($2.2 billion) in financing between March and end-May, ranking third after the US hubs in Massachusetts and San Francisco.

Boosting research into dementia and enabling earlier diagnosis and treatment of cancer are the first two missions in the document, along with sustaining the UK's position in vaccines, brought to the fore by the Oxford University/AstraZeneca COVID-19 shot.

The other missions cover cardiovascular disease, particularly obesity, as well as respiratory diseases, the biology of ageing, and increasing the understanding of mental health conditions.

Underneath all this of course are the practical ways in which the government intends to support the industry, centred around simplifying the governance and oversight of NHS health data, bolstering the role of the NHS as an "innovation partner", increasing the UK R&D spend, and broadening UK companies' access to finance.

The publication accompanies the launch of a £200 million Life Sciences Investment Programme – expected to attract £400 million in private capital – that the government says will bring the total amount of funding available to UK's most promising companies to £1 billion.

There are four overarching themes in the document, including building on the pandemic to tackle other diseases, harnessing the UK's genomic and health data strength and supporting the NHS to use innovative health technologies more quickly and widely.

It also pledges to make sure companies can access the finance to grow, will benefit from an "agile" regulatory framework, and will be able to manufacture and commercialise products in the UK.

"Access to capital to scale at pace in the UK remains the key constraint in the funding landscape for UK life science companies," said BIA chief executive Steve Bates.

"The Life Sciences Investment Programme alone is not enough to address the scale-up challenge for life sciences but it shows very positive intent from the government that we hope will bring in new UK-based investors into the sector," he added.

Among other proposals in the strategy document is the creation of a Life Science Scale Up Taskforce that will develop recommendations on issues that are holding back the development of the sector, and strengthening the UK's public markets environment to encourage more companies to list there.

"With the right incentives the UK can become not just a life sciences superpower but a hub for manufacturing next-generation healthcare technologies too," said Torbett.

"Health and science have never been higher on the agenda and today's vision document sets a clear ambition for the UK to lead the way."