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Transforming the UK into a Life Sciences Superpower

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The Health and Social Care Secretary has laid out the government's commitment to boost the UK life sciences sector and build on lessons from the pandemic.

Patients are set to benefit from better research, treatment, care and improved clinical decision-making, as the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock set out his plans for the future of the UK life sciences sector at the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) annual conference last week.

The life sciences sector made significant leaps in response to the COVID pandemic, from finding innovative treatments for the virus including dexamethasone and launching the first Antivirals Taskforce, to rolling out one of the most successful vaccination programmes in the world. To harness this momentum and ensure the sector’s growth beyond the pandemic, the Health Secretary announced his plan to make the UK a life sciences superpower, building back better and embracing the innovations that will transform the decade ahead.

In his first life sciences-focused speech since the pandemic began, Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock, said:

“We’ve learned a huge amount this last year – and we’ve learned a lot about how to make things happen. It’s one of the things I want to address today. How we’ve managed to accelerate things, that often happens in a crisis, but crucially, we’ve got to hold on to those things and translate the lessons we’ve learned, especially from the things that have gone well – the discovery of dexamethasone, our vaccines project…

The public has never been more engaged in health research – never has the public been more engaged about health research – so let’s harness this enthusiasm. Tackling COVID has been a global mission – but there are so many other noble missions that still lie ahead. I am sure you can think of those that you are most focused on. Tackling cancer. Treatments for dementia. Preventing heart disease. So much more…

It’s no longer about getting us back to where we were – it’s about charting a new and better course, where we learn the lessons of the pandemic, and build back better, to transform the UK into a life sciences superpower. That is what we can do. I know it’s an ambition you all share.”

The Health Secretary announced £37 million worth of new investments in genomics projects and data-driven initiatives. Genomics England projects supporting the implementation of the Genome UK strategy will receive £17 million including funding to explore public attitudes to, and the potential value of, newborn sequencing, contributing to the increase in data from ethnic minorities in genomic cohorts and data sets, and supporting a next-generation approach to cancer diagnosis.

He set out how new support for the UK Functional Genomics Initiative will drive groundbreaking new approaches to improve our understanding of how genetic changes cause disease. Genomics sequencing will be used as a routine part of everyday diagnosis and treatment, bringing benefits to patients by giving doctors the tools to make better clinical decisions through faster diagnosis and more precise treatments.

The remaining £20 million will be invested in initiatives to harness UK health data for life sciences research as part of the ambition to make the UK the most advanced and data-enabled clinical research environment in the world. This will include investment clinical trials, making it quicker and easier to set them up and deliver them, and funding to develop medicines, vaccines and health technologies to support cutting-edge research such as the COVID vaccine trials, and studies supporting the earlier detection of disease.

The Health Secretary said:

“Today I’m proud to set out the next steps with a £20 million investment in the new data-driven ‘Find, Recruit and Follow-Up’ service for clinical trials… I’m determined to make it quicker and easier to set up and deliver the high-power clinical trials we need. More than that, the trials will be better with R&D-ready data, to strengthen their power to increase diversity of participants.

And so, bring medicines to market safer and faster, from cancer to cardiovascular, to every disease known to mankind. Taken together, all this means better research, better treatment, better clinical decision-making, and more lives saved, and lives improved. That is the mission of the life sciences.”

The Health Secretary went on to affirm his commitment to support free trade and global exports, and his pledge to make the UK the best place in the world for life science businesses to invest and locate their operations.

He said:

“My message to would-be investors in UK life sciences is this. Nowhere in the world will you find a government that is more committed to you, and nowhere will you find a government more committed to free trade and contract law. The life sciences industry is global by nature. It depends on a huge collaboration, internationally, on international supply chains, maybe more than any other industry.

But we know, and I believe fundamentally, that the best way to protect all our supply chains is not protectionism, it’s openness… I want to make crystal clear Britain’s unshakeable commitment to free trade and contract law – a covenant on life sciences, if you like, that gives those who want to invest and build their businesses in the UK the assurance they need that you can export the medicines made here to your destination market.

We want to match this commitment with powerful incentives. We’ve established the new Medicines and Diagnostics Manufacturing Transformation Fund as a model for how we can do this, offering capital grants to encourage manufacturing, including large-scale manufacturing. And my mission, our mission, not just to build back the manufacturing but to build back better… And I want us to make sure our offer is so good that it would be an impossible choice not to invest and locate in the UK.”