UK Life Sciences Sector

In so many ways, this is the perfect time for the BELS community to re-engage with the UK health and life sciences scene.  In 2011, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, delivered a speech to a Financial Times industry conference in London articulating the vision behind the government’s Life Science Strategy launched that year.  The speech still resonates today and is worth reading to grasp the scale of this ambition.

The Strategy made a series of commitments to address various challenges facing the industry with a focus on more efficiently translating scientific discoveries into innovative products and services, making that process smarter and faster, with better returns for patients, businesses and investors.  Both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, George Osborne, continue to demonstrate their commitment to the strategy as evidenced recently by strengthening the Office for Life Sciences as a government unit, which sits in both the Department of Business and the Department of Health, and the creation of a new Minister for Life Sciences in George Freeman, the first post of this kind in the world.

BELS will provide regular updates on topics and programmes mentioned herein.  We hope to build your knowledge level and interest in health and life science activities in the UK.  We welcome your opinions, questions and requests for more information.  Please contact us with your thoughts and suggestions.

The Environment

To address the rising complexity of R&D and the commercialisation process, the government has introduced a suite of fiscal measures that include targeted investment, funding initiatives and tax schemes designed to stimulate innovation and growth, particularly for small- and medium-sized companies (SMEs) as well as larger companies, with a UK base also affording overseas companies access to European funding.

A Patent Box was introduced in April 2013 allowing for a 10% rate of corporation tax on all profits attributable to qualifying patentsR&D tax credits for SMEs are now among the most generous in the world with relief worth approximately 25% on every £1 of qualifying expenditure.  New VC funds have appeared, such as Index and the Wellcome Trust’s Syncona, augmented by a Regional Growth Fund of £2.4 billion across England from 2011-2015.  £300 million from the UK Research Partnership Investment Fund was made available to stimulate R&D collaborations between universities, businesses and charities.  £180 million was committed over the course of three years to the Biomedical Catalyst to bridge the early ‘valley of death’.  This has been mirrored by significant support from the devolved administrations of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

The Research Base

78 Nobel Prizes have been awarded to UK scientists for contributions to biomedical science reflecting the rich heritage of the UK science community in this space.  This consistent standard of excellence has been protected despite these straitened times by ring-fenced funding from research councils such as the MRC, the BBSRC and the NIHR.  The UK is the size of New England in the US yet boasts 15% of the world’s top 200 universities, surely the greatest concentration of biomedical excellence in the world.  This is to be further strengthened with the opening in 2015 of the Crick Centre in London at King’s Cross in a partnership between the MRC, Cancer Research UK, the Wellcome Trust, University College, King’s College and Imperial College – surely one of the most significant developments in UK biomedical science in a generation.  The commitment to core science funding by the government has seen major investments in genomics, informatics and synthetic biology.  The UK is therefore a unique combination of world-leading academic institutions, great cutting-edge science, superior facilities and brilliant principal investigators.

Clinical Infrastructure

The UK spends more than £500 million annually on the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) infrastructure to support experimental medicine research and clinical trials in the NHS.  The NIHR Office for Clinical Research Infrastructure (NOCRI) has become an incredible resource in facilitating industry access to the UK’s clinical research infrastructure and excellence, providing access to well-characterised and diverse patient cohorts drawn from the 60 million people who use the NHS in the UK.  NIHR Biomedical Research Centres and Units across the country are early adopters of new insights in technologies, techniques and treatments for improving health, driving translation of fundamental biomedical research into the clinic to benefit patients.  They are being expanded with an additional investment of £800 million over five years from 2012.  The NIHR BioResource provides a national cohort of healthy volunteers, patients and their relatives wishing to participate in experimental medicine research.  Over £100 million is being invested in 19 clinical research facilities around the country and the NIHR is also working in partnership with Cancer Research UK and other health departments to fund Experimental Cancer Medicine Centres that will help speed up the process of cancer drug development and the search for cancer biomarkers.

Access to the NHS

The NHS is the largest national healthcare system in the world and was recently recognised by the  Commonwealth Fund in the US as the best healthcare system in the world by a large number of measures.  At the same time that the Strategy for Life Sciences was launched in 2011, the Department of Health’s Innovation Health and Wealth delivery agenda was set out to embed and spread innovation at pace and scale throughout the NHS.  While no one is pretending this can be achieved quickly given the size and complexity of the system, the actions represent an integrated set of measures that together are supporting the NHS to achieve systematic change in the way it operates in delivering high quality care, value for money and driving economic growth.

All governments worldwide are wrestling with escalating healthcare costs and aging populations, a potentially devastating combination.  Value for money and tough decisions on what can be afforded are therefore becoming the norm.  The UK is a global leader in health technology assessment and home to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) whose expertise is now often leveraged as it develops an evidence base to support market access, uptake and diffusion.  The creation of 15 Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) across England aims to facilitate collaboration and access into the NHS and represents a unique approach to aligning education, clinical research, informatics, innovation, training and healthcare delivery.  The AHSNs are encouraging industry to engage with a joined-up clinical ecosystem so it can better understand the needs and requirements of the NHS.

Health Data

The NHS and its anonymised health records are home to unrivalled, clinically-coded health data, including linked datasets offering a unique opportunity to understand care pathways.  This rich output of data can help drive innovation.  The UK Biobank is a unique resource of data and samples linked to health records from half a million participants that will help researchers discern the roles of nature and nurture in health and disease.  Such resources are accessible to researchers in academia and industry from anywhere in the world conducting research that is in the public interest.  The Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD) is England’s observational data and interventional research service that supports research, clinical trial feasibility and protocol optimisation, thus maximising the utility of anonymised NHS clinical data.  The Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) is England’s central and authoritative source of health and social care information for frontline decision makers, enabling the improvement of healthcare decision making, patient outcomes and the identification of efficiency savings.  In 2014 the HSCIC has taken numerous steps to strengthen data policies and regulations to protect patient privacy and restrict access to appropriate purposes involving better care and faster cures.  Hospital Episode Statistics (HES) is the national statistical data warehouse for England of the care provided by NHS hospitals and for NHS hospital patients treated elsewhere.  It includes data on hospital admissions, outpatient appointments and A&E attendances for all NHS trusts in England.


The UK is home to two internationally respected health regulators in the Medicines and Healthcare Product Regulatory Agency (MHRA) at the UK level and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) at the European level.  Both can ensure better portability and prestige of a company’s products across the rest of the world.  The UK is adopting an Early Access Scheme to facilitate access of breakthrough products in the UK ahead of other markets.  The UK is seeking to remove regulatory barriers and to push for a more efficient and innovative regulatory environment.  In addition to streamlining approvals for health research, it has committed to adopt innovative manufacturing technology.  Since last year, the Health Research Authority (HRA) is providing transparent expert advice to support decisions on access to personal health information as well as continuing to streamline the research approvals process.

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