UK life sciences: powering into the future
Life Sciences This is a critical time for UK life sciences, says MSD's Managing Director Louise Houson, but in order to be a world-leader, several challenges and concerns must be addressed along the way.
Globally, we are facing significant healthcare challenges in key disease areas such as cancer, antibiotic resistance and dementia. As a global healthcare company, we are committed to finding solutions to many of these devastating diseases through the focus on cutting edge research and development (R&D) and ground-breaking scientific interventions.
The life sciences sector is a major component of the current economic base of the UK, generating £64 billion of turnover, and employing more than 233,000 scientists and staff. It is from this position of strength that the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy (LSIS), launched in August 2017 by Sir John Bell, aims to consolidate and extend the UK’s lead with a bold vision for the future of the sector.
By taking a lead in this hugely global competitive sector, the UK has the opportunity to not only increase its economic growth but to also support patients treated in the NHS. As a member of the LSIS task board and a partner of the Life Sciences Sector Deal, we believe there are three strategic priorities the UK should focus upon to support growth: NHS collaboration and partnerships, investment in innovative medicines and technologies and utilising data and digital tools.
Why the UK?
The last few years have witnessed a change in the way drug discovery is conducted. As scientific progress has been made, the quest to identify cures for apparently more complex conditions has become ever harder. The UK brings together a unique collection of factors, which make it fertile ground for developing into a world-leading nation in the life sciences sector that are able to advance these healthcare challenges.
The UK is already acknowledged as a world-leader in developing science, underpinned by a strong research and development infrastructure, scientific skills base and clinical trial network.
We are already taking advantage of this, as a committed partner to the NHS, universities and research bodies, as well as commercial and non-profit organisations.
Each year we spend over £40 million on research partnerships with the NHS and UK academic centres and, at any one time, we conduct approximately 100 clinical studies in the UK with over 3,000 patients participating each year. The UK’s London, Cambridge, Oxford scientific triangle is well recognised as a leader in scientific expertise and innovation worldwide and we recently announced plans to maximise on this, announcing plans to establish a state of the art R&D centre and head office in London in the next few years.
The UK life science industry also benefits from the internationally-recognised National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which offers evidence-based guidance to the NHS on effective, good-value healthcare, including medicines, health technology and devices. The existence of NICE means life sciences companies can engage with the medicines evaluation process in a positive way.
The benefits of keeping research and development centres in the UK include access to skills, innovation, invention, new products, trials, and accelerated access for patients. Early UK clinical experience with new innovations can aid adoption and early patient access.
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The UK as an important landscape for collaboration
The quest to identify cures for ever more complex conditions has become ever harder, but the growing convergence of biology, genetics, and informatics, new computational tools and access to data sets means there is no shortage of insights, capabilities or therapeutic candidates.
However, we cannot do it alone. Collaboration is more important than ever in today’s ecosystem, so it is important to locate in places such as London which are rich in biomedical expertise and talent. Collaboration between the NHS and industry is enabling better access to treatments.
Real-time data supporting government healthcare plans
Technology is revolutionising the management of healthcare and we are proud to continue to push the boundaries of invention to go ‘beyond the pill’, investing in harnessing the amazing capacity of innovative solutions and technology to help address the challenges in the NHS now and in the future. For example there is a huge opportunity with data because we have single payer and patient records in the UK that go from the time somebody is born until they die. That is unique.
Projects such as the NHS Test Bed programme, where GPs, an NHS clinical commissioning group, a research organisation, our organisation and a university are working together to develop predictive tools and techniques to help assess and manage patients at risk of developing long-term conditions.
Maintaining the UK as a top early-launch market post-Brexit
At this critical time for the future of the UK life sciences industry, it is essential to address concerns relating to the potential impact of the UK’s exit from the EU for the industry's supply chain, regulatory environment and ability to attract talent to the UK.
Addressing these issues is fundamental to creating a stable environment for economic growth and to continuing to make a positive difference for patients.The LSIS is an important mechanism to providing greater certainty and reassurance in light of the UK’s exit from the EU and its effective implementation across the next five years or more is critical.
Challenges: patient access to medicines
Whilst the UK has a world class science base which attracts companies such as ours, there also remain many challenges in relation to patient’s access to medicines and within the wider commercial environment in which we operate. This hinders the creation of a more competitive environment in which to drive investment, jobs and growth for the future. The Industrial Strategy offers the opportunity to deliver a stable and holistic approach to life sciences that recognises the full value of innovative medicines from early stage research all the way to adoption.
We believe in the power of partnership and recognise no single organisation has everything it takes to deliver on complete healthcare. The ability of industry, government and the NHS to work in partnership to deliver these ambitious aims will send a positive message as to the UK’s vision and desire to be a world-leading environment for life sciences.
At MSD we’re pushing the boundaries of science with the hope and expectation that the medicines and vaccines we invent will lead to better health for people worldwide.
As part of the Life Sciences Sector Deal, announced in December 2017, MSD plans to invest in a new Discovery Centre in London, a life sciences discovery research facility and headquarters, focussed on early bioscience discovery and entrepreneurial innovation. It will support 950 jobs, 800 existing roles together with 150 new high-skilled and high-value research roles.
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