by GK Strategy 21st February, 2018
3 min read

What does the UK Life Sciences Strategy mean for the pharma and biotech sector?

This post appeared first on PharmaLetter.

The life sciences industry is one of the dominant sectors of the UK economy, generating £64 billion turnovers every year and employing more than 233,000 scientists and staff.[i] With leaked UK Government reports anticipating a negative economic impact from Brexit, the Government is keen to utilise Britain’s world-leading research to support the high-skilled life sciences sector and ensure economic growth in post-Brexit Britain.  To achieve this and to get better treatments to patients faster, the Government unveiled its ‘Life Sciences Industrial Strategy’ at the end of last year.[ii] This partnership between government and industry offers excellent opportunities for biotech and pharma companies who are prepared to seize them.

The Life Sciences Industrial Strategy – part of a wider the Industrial Strategy, a flagship policy for Theresa May’s Government – sets out to improve the conversion of research into development in order to grow the sector. The number of new drugs launched per $1bn spent on R&D has fallen nearly thirty-fold over the last 40 years, with the average return on investment now just 3.2%. Biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies are keen to access the NHS market and utilise the vast data it holds to support R&D, while NHS leaders to are keen to support R&D and incorporate innovative and cost-effective new products into practice to help overcome the financial pressures they currently face. This shared ambition is promising and holds potential for better patient care and more streamlined and innovative drug development.

The Strategy has five key pillars, including increasing research funding and improving clinical trials capabilities to improve scientific research, encouraging investment in and growth of the life sciences sector through tax changes and investment, and fostering greater collaboration between the NHS and life sciences sector. To help achieve this, the Strategy’s publication was accompanied by £160m of new funding pots to support different areas of life sciences R&D. The money will primarily help biotechs looking for greater public R&D funding. However, more significantly for the wider sector, despite tight constraints in other areas of public finances, the Government has pledged to increase R&D spending from the present 1.7% of GDP to 2.4% of GDP by 2027.[iii]

A flagship scheme of the current Strategy is a new ‘Accelerated Access Pathway’ (AAP). From April 2018, this will offer a new route to market for health technologies, aiming to streamline regulatory and market access decisions to get the most transformative innovations to patients faster.[iv] The AAP will be developed by an Accelerated Access Collaborative (AAC), chaired by former GSK Chief Executive Sir Andrew Witty, and give “breakthrough product” designation to around five products a year. Although the details of the scheme are still to be announced, it promises to be a boon to those companies who are successful in getting their products on the Pathway.  As a public sector scheme headed up by a champion of industry, the APP is also a good illustration of the new partnership approach set out by the Strategy.

For larger players in the market, the Government has also demonstrated an appetite to do deals with the pharma industry. For instance, global pharmaceutical company MSD has secured agreement for a new state-of-the-art UK hub designed to help ensure innovative research into future treatments for patients is completed in Britain. Meanwhile, GSK and AstraZeneca have also launched a “trail-blazing” AI programme to develop digital pathology and radiology programmes embedded in the NHS. More such deals are likely to follow, generating opportunities for those organisations which engage with government.

Alongside these deals, the Strategy also includes new measures such as ‘Fast-Track’ NICE appraisals for the most clinically and cost-effective products, which enables NHS England to apply to make certain products available to patients a month after they are licensed. Such efforts by NICE to accelerate the approval process promise to reduce the cost of bringing new products to market. In this vain, NICE has also developed the PharmaScan database, populated with information on new medicines in development, to help ensure more effective decision making and faster uptake of innovative new medicines. Taken together, such steps show intent by policy-makers and regulators to shape a more favourable environment for growth, to the benefit of both patients and businesses.

However, a closer relationship between industry and the NHS is likely to result in a growing debate around use and guardianship of NHS patient data. The case of Google DeepMind’s collaboration with the Royal Free NHS Foundation Trust in London illustrates the risks that come with this after the Information Commissioner’s Office found that the Trust failed to comply with the Data Protection Act when it provided patient details to Google DeepMind.[v] As a result of this ruling, the Trust was asked to improve its process for handling data and complete a privacy impact assessment. Industry can expect to see greater regulatory interest in this area, which it must navigate carefully.

Going forward, a new governance structure has been put in place to help the Strategy evolve over time. From April 2018, a Life Science Council, jointly chaired by the secretaries of state for health and business will decide how to move forward.  Alongside the Council is an Independent Life Sciences board to overlook what Government is doing as a whole, while further bodies such as the Office of Life Sciences will sit underneath. The Life Sciences Council will report to a Cabinet Committee on Life Sciences personally chaired by the Prime Minister, emphasising the importance the Government places on the Strategy and the sector to future economic growth.[vi]

The Life Sciences Strategy is an opportunity for companies to secure R&D investment and better access the NHS market through policy engagement. However, many of its components are still in flux and key programmes within the Strategy are still themselves in the development phase. This offers industry the chance to help define these programmes and to shape the policy environment in which biotech and pharma businesses operate. To make the UK life sciences sector the best place to do business, now is the time for the industry to step up and help shape the Strategy.

Edward Jones is a Policy and Communications Consultant at GK Strategyan independent Westminster-based strategic communications firm. To contact him, please email edward@gkstrategy.com


[i] HM government, 2016, Strength and Opportunity 2016: The landscape of the medical technology and biopharmaceutical sectors in the UK.

[ii] Office for Life Sciences, ‘Life sciences: industrial strategy’, 30th August 2017.

[iii] George Parker, Gavin Jackson and Peter Campbell, ‘Theresa May to promise extra £2.3bn for research and development’, Financial Times, 20th November 2017.

[iv] Department of Health and Social Care and Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, ‘Accelerated Access Review: response’, 5 December 2017.

[v] https://ico.org.uk/about-the-ico/news-and-events/news-and-blogs/2017/07/royal-free-google-deepmind-trial-failed-to-comply-with-data-protection-law/

[vi] House of Lords, ‘Government Ministers questioned on Life Sciences and Industrial Strategy’, 19th January 2018.

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