On Monday 21st May 2018, the Industry and Parliament Trust hosted a Dinner Discussion to consider ‘Supporting the UK’s Innovative Life Sciences Sector’. Held in the House of Commons, this event was chaired by Maggie Throup MP, Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Ministerial Team at the Department for Health and Social Care. Providing their expert knowledge and personal perspectives were guest speakers Amanda Cunnington, Head of Patient Access at Bayer, and Professor Roslyn Bill, Professor of Biotechnology at Aston University. The discussion was attended by Members from the House of Commons, the House of Lords and representatives from charities, business and industry.
With the global life sciences industry expected to reach $2 trillion in gross value by 2023, how can we ensure the UK remains the best place in the world to invest in life sciences? The sector produces drugs, diagnostics, medical technologies and digital tools and is a major component of the UK economy; it generates £64bn of annual turnover and employs over 233,000 people. In the coming decades, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) predicts that healthcare spending will outgrow the economy in OECD countries, which creates a sustainability problem for national healthcare systems. A key global issue associated with our increasing population lifespan is the lack of a corresponding increase in healthspan; in other words, we are poised to spend much of our later years in poor health. Consequently, there is a pressing need to understand how fundamental biological processes support healthy ageing across the life course.
An urgent challenge for the life sciences sector is to produce innovative solutions that can address society’s growing need for healthcare products. Supporting the life sciences sector formed a key part of the government’s recent Industrial Strategy White Paper, which outlined a new multibillion Sector Deal. However, in April 2018, the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee published ‘Life Sciences Industrial Strategy: Who’s driving the bus?’ which raised concerns about the Government’s capacity to deliver this strategy.
The Dinner Discussion considered the contents of the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy and examined the opportunities the Life Sciences Sector Deal could provide in supporting academic and industrial partnerships to deliver innovative solutions for the benefit of our ageing population. In particular, the discussion explored whether the UK Government has the necessary structures in place to support the life sciences sector.
The impact of Brexit dominated the early discussions, particularly because life science businesses require clarity on the post-Brexit regulatory environment if they are to consider investing in or locating to the UK. Several participants highlighted this uncertainty as a significant barrier.
Access to patients and their data was a theme that was discussed throughout the event. In the UK, the National Health Service has the potential to be a unique resource for the life sciences sector in delivering innovation, both in terms of its data and patient resources. It was noted that the lack of centralised healthcare policy in our national system can mean that treatments are not always delivered consistently in the UK. It was acknowledged that there is huge potential for artificial intelligence and digital diagnostics to increase productivity and improve patient outcomes.
Collaboration between universities and business in the development of innovative therapies was recognised to be central to future success. Scientists make discoveries at the bench that must be translated for patient benefit by businesses. The value of funding schemes that enable research and business to interact effectively was recognised by several participants; it was clear that current schemes are not always adequately set up to allow ‘bench to bedside’ translation. To avoid missing opportunities to convert the world-leading research being done at UK universities and research institutes, continued partnership and dialogue between industry, academia and government is essential in maintaining the strength of the life sciences sector.
Words by Professor Roslyn M Bill, Professor of Biotechnology, Aston University