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Life Sciences Q3 2021

Boosting the health and wealth of the nation

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Dr Richard Torbett

Chief Executive, ABPI

The pandemic has shown us the value of a strong life sciences sectorand demonstrated what is possible when Government, industry, academia and the NHS work together to overcome major health challenges. 

Governments across the globe are rapidly mobilising plans to enhance their life sciences offer, seeking to attract major industrial investment and top scientific talent. If they get this right the rewards are clear – improved patient outcomes, the creation of highly skilled and highly paid jobs and greater resilience to future pandemics. 

The UK Government has been quick out of the blocks by publishing the Life Sciences Vision earlier this year. It’s an exciting prospectus, outlining tangible proposals which could unlock enormous potential across the whole life sciences innovation system. 

It is vital that the Government’s focus now turns to delivery of the Vision, at pace and scale.

The Vision identifies three focus areas:

First, the NHS should play a vital role as an innovation partner. We have seen during the COVID crisis that the NHS can be a powerful driver of research as well as patient care. We need to build on this success and forge a new partnership between industry and the service – as well as with patients, regulators and other system partners. We need to ensure that the UK is not just a strong location for discovery science but is also the destination of choice for clinical development and that we attain genuinely world-leading adoption of technology.

Second, we must maintain and enhance investment in the science base. Our world-class universities, research institutes and infrastructures act as a magnet for talent and industrial investment. But, for decades we have underinvested in this science base – with public investment in R&D well below our international competitors and our overall investment in R&D at 1.7% GDP, compared to the OECD average of 2.4%. This is rightly a priority area for the UK Government with a manifesto pledge to double the science budget – we need to see this delivered on. 

A third and vital precondition is harnessing the unique potential of NHS health data to drive and accelerate research. This has to be done in the right way, with transparency of purpose and a clear governance framework. But it is a unique asset for delivering improved patient outcomes which we must utilise. We must invest in the technological infrastructure, frameworks, platforms and skills needed to make the most of this unique asset. 

Delivering the vision 

It is vital that the Government’s focus now turns to delivery of the Vision, at pace and scale. If we back life sciences, they can be at the heart of improving the health and wealth of the nation, at a time when both have never been under such pressure.

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