Report finds UK risks falling behind rivals in life sciences


A just-published report on the UK's life sciences sector "ought to ring alarm bells across government," according to the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI).

The Life Sciences Competitiveness Indicators report shows that spending on life sciences R&D was £2.7 billion in 2020 – accounting for 0.12% of GDP and ranked third among the top 15 industrialised nations, behind only the US and Japan.

However, the UK is much further down the rankings on other measures, including the use of diagnostics, patient uptake of new medicines, recruitment to clinical trials and pharmaceutical exports, according to the ABPI.

England comes in sixth place on the median time to availability of new medicines, with Scotland ninth, and the UK as a whole lies in seventh place on the time it takes for patients in a clinical trial to be dosed after the application to carry out a study is submitted.

In the UK, the set-up and recruitment of patients takes longer than the approval process, says the report. It also notes that comparator countries in Europe – such as Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland – approved a greater number of innovative medicines in 2020 and took a shorter time to do so compared to both England and Scotland.

Meanwhile, the UK scores poorly on the number of CT, MRI and PET scanners per million population – at the bottom of the table among 16 countries – ninth out of 20 for pharmaceutical exports, and tenth out of 20 for medal technology exports.

"While we've got 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," said ABPI chief executive Richard Torbett.

"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 added.

Just over a year ago the UK government published its long-awaited Life Sciences Vision strategy, which laid out seven healthcare "missions" including boosting research and care of chronic diseases like cancer and dementia.

The document also pledged to simplify the governance and oversight of NHS health data, boost the role of the NHS as an "innovation partner" for industry, increase the UK's R&D spend, and broaden companies' access to finance.

Draft finance bill

This week, the government also published the draft Finance Bill prepared under former Chancellor and PM hopeful Rishi Sunak, which includes changes to the UK’s R&D tax relief regime.

This has been broadly welcomed by the BioIndustry Association (BIA), although the trade body is concerned about provisions to end payments for R&D conducted overseas in order to "refocus" it on innovation in the UK.

"BIA responded quickly to highlight to the Chancellor and his officials that the development of new medicines is an internationally-collaborative endeavour and companies must conduct R&D in multiple countries by necessity," said the organisation, which notes that 33% of its members' R&D investment currently takes place outside the UK.

Top image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay