Fanfare and optimism for UK’s Life Sciences Sector Deal

The Life Sciences sector has been chosen as the flagship for the UK’s post-Brexit industrial strategy, with an impressive roll-call of deals assembled for its launch today.

While Theresa May’s government looks fragile once again after a row erupted with its parliamentary partners, the DUP, over its plans for Brexit and Ireland, it has won over the pharma, biotech and medtech sectors with a promise of special status for the industries.

Business Secretary Greg Clark and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt have unveiled the Sector Deal for the Life Sciences industries today, which the UK government believes will be ‘transformative’.

It will lay out an agreed set of strategic goals that it says will ensure the UK builds on its exceptional reputation for science and research, genomics and clinical trials.

No fewer than 25 organisations from across the sector have pledged ‘significant investment’ in the UK, which the government hopes will put the country at the forefront of developing treatments and medical technologies.

Industry leaders are nonetheless warning that a Brexit that sees the UK out in the cold, not ‘aligned’ with European rules and regulations, will almost certainly see disinvestment from the UK. But for the meantime, the UK focus on listening closely to the sector’s demands seems to have paid off.

Here are the highlights of the new investments announced:

MSD is to establish a state-of-the-art life sciences discovery research facility in London, focused on early bioscience discovery and entrepreneurial innovation, which the company believes will expand its opportunity to engage with leading researchers in the UK and Europe (originally announced last week)

Janssen (J&J’s pharma division) and the University of Oxford intend to collaborate on novel clinical trial methodologies in the UK; these would include platform trials, focused on mental health disorders such as depression

The Medicines Company has initiated two projects – one with the University of Oxford to perform a large multi-national cardiovascular disease clinical trial and another with The Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership to improve the understanding, management and economics of cardiovascular disease.

GSK and AstraZeneca: significant investments from both companies in initiatives to harness advances in genetic research in the development of medicines

Roche Diagnostics will work with the government to support the mainstream implementation of Digital Pathology services across the NHS. This could see innovative approaches to cancer testing trialled in the NHS, includes whole slide scanners, image management software and image analysis algorithms

The Sector Deal has incorporated many of the recommendations set out in the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy, authored by Oxford scientist Sir John Bell. These include increasing government investment in R&D, although this increase will be at a slower rate than requested. R&D investment will rise from £9.5 bn in 2016/17 to £12.5bn in 2021/22.  The government has pledged for this increase to reach 2.4% of GDP by 2027 – taking ten years rather than the five recommended in Sir John’s report.

Also included is the setting up of a Health Advanced Research Programme (HARP), with the ultimate goal of creating a handful of world-class biotech firms.

This co-ordination of good news came together at a reception held at 10 Downing Street last night, with life science leaders rubbing shoulders with BEIS secretary Greg Clark, health secretary Jeremy Hunt and NHS leaders and academic research chiefs to toast the future success of the UK sector.

But industry leaders won’t be getting carried away when there are hugely significant questions about the UK’s post-Brexit future to be decided in 2018.

The ABPI’s Mike Thompson

Mike Thompson, chief executive officer, ABPI said:  “Today’s announcements are a great start towards industry and Government working together to deliver the long-term strategic roadmap set out in the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy.

“These are smart investments for the future that acknowledge the Government’s willingness to build upon the UK’s global strength in R&D, our leadership in new technologies such as genomic medicine and the potential that exists in making the best use of health data.”

The Sector Deal won’t include a deal on probably the most crucial UK market question – the uptake of new medicines. This will instead be decided in late 2018, when the existing PPRS pricing deal must be renegotiated.

The Life Sciences Industrial Strategy was essentially an ambitious industry wish-list, but the ABPI and its biotech counterpart the BIA will push to have as many of its demands met as possible.

“If we get this right – if the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy is implemented in full – the UK can open itself up to be at the forefront of cutting-edge clinical research,” said Mike Thompson.

“NHS hospitals will reap the benefits of global clinical trials and the financial rewards they bring; doctors can prescribe the latest treatments and patients will get the best standard of care. This ecosystem will deliver for everyone.

“Next year could be a transformative year for the NHS as we work together to deliver this innovation to underpin a more productive health service.”

The government has also restated its commitment to set up an independent industrial Strategy Council to assess progress and make recommendations to government.  Pharma leaders have already stressed that this and other new structures will have a crucial role in making sure the Sector Deal is more than just window dressing.

The ABPI has called for an “open and collaborative relationship between government, and Sir John Bell and key representatives from the sector, with regular dialogue on progress on the implementation and delivery of the deal’s vision.”  This will be the true acid test for the Sector Deal, with the denouement of Brexit negotiations in 2018 being the last crucial piece of the jigsaw.

Read the full UK Life Sciences Sector Deal here

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