The life sciences sector contributes more than £70bn per year to the UK economy. The UK pharma industry has been hugely successful at attracting investment with pharmaceutical companies investing 16% of their European R&D spend in the UK, compared with its 9% of European market share by sales.
One consequence of Brexit was the departure of the European Medicine Agency (EMA) – despite the presence of significant expertise and talent here, it was obvious that as a "third country" outside the EU, the UK could not host an EU agency.
Concerns were raised by the Nuffield Trust and others that the physical departure of the EMA was going to act as a disincentive for future pharmaceutical investment. The EMA had attracted private investment in the UK with biopharmaceutical companies competing for closer ties with one of the world’s key drug regulators.
How does the future of the UK life sciences look?
First, some good news from the Trade and Cooperation Agreement announced on 24 December 2020 was that UK researchers would still be allowed to participate in EU research programmes.
Secondly, the skills of the UK life sciences sector have been demonstrated recently with the development of the Oxford COVID-19 vaccine and rapid implementation of the UK-wide vaccination programme.
Post-Brexit the UK Government is determined to ensure that the life sciences industry thrives. The industry was highlighted as having enormous strength in Boris Johnson's first speech as Prime Minster in 2019 and he has followed that up with meetings with leading industry figures including Bill Gates, who as a joint founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a major investor in seeking solutions to global diseases.
To that end the Government has created a new public/private investment fund (The Life Sciences Investment Programme) which will invest directly and indirectly (though funds) in companies in the life sciences sector. An initial £200m investment has been ear-marked in the hope of attracting additional funds from the private sector. In March of this year, the Programme received a major boost by virtue of an investment agreement reached between the UK and Abu Dhabi with the latter's investment fund (Mubadala) promising up to £800million of investment in the life sciences industry via a Strategic Investment Programme.
It is hoped that the first investments will be made before the end of this year, helping to secure the UK's leading position in the industry.