David Willetts gives an update on the UK LIfe Sciences Strategy

Posted on August 29, 2012 by


David Willetts, the science minister with responsiblity for the UK LIfe Sciences Strategy, has given us the first official update on how they are implementing the strategy to bolster the life sciences sector and promote economic growth. We’ve been following its progress on this blog since David Cameron launched the strategy back in December 2011 so you’ll know most of this already if you’re an avid follower, but this is a nice opportunity to get all the initiatives down on digital paper in one place. You can read the full letter here so I’ll just give you the digest (sorry, it’s still pretty long!). Most of the links will take you to our blogs where we’ve covered the developments in more detail.

Progress with the Strategy for UK LIfe Sciences

The update is based around five key themes: research clusters and collaborations; data; improving the environment; global marketing of the UK; and skills, talent and workforce.

Research clusters and collaborations

  • £800 million is being invested over five years for new National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centres (BRCs) and Units (BRUs). This began in April. It’s hoped these will boost translational research in areas such as cancer, neuroscience, diabetes and joint-related inflammatory diseases.
  • The Cell Therapy Catapult (previously known as the Technology Innovation Centre) is almost complete. It’s based at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, London, and will be up and running by this autumn.
  • The research councils and Technology Strategy Board published their Strategy for UK Regenerative Medicine in March.
  • That strategy included a £25 million UK Regenerative Medicine Platform (it’s funding to set up research hubs, in simple words) to promote the translation of discoveries into treatments.
  • The government hopes there will be between 12 and 18 Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) in England by March 2014, the idea of these being to get everyone together and talking to promote and spread innovation throughout the NHS and beyond.


Improving the environment

  • The £180 million Biomedical Catalyst fund was launched in April, and is jointly operated by TSB and MRC. This  programme to support the maturation of an idea from concept to commercialisation is available to UK businesses (SMEs) and academics looking to develop  solutions to healthcare challenges either individually or in collaboration.
  • Osborne’s Budget 2012 confirmed the launch of the Patent Box from April 2013. This will give a reduced 10% rate of corporation tax on profits from patents and certain other similar types of IP.
  • The MHRA have been publishing guidance for small and medium businesses on licensing
  • The regulatory audit and Red Tape Challenge was completed in April 2012 (read our response here). A package of proposals will be published in the autumn.
  • The creation of the Health Research Authority (HRA) will combine and streamline regulation, making the process more straightforward and easier to navigate.
  • MHRA published its consultation document on an ‘Early Access Scheme’ in July. This aims to support treatments where there is a high unmet clinical need, and will conclude in October 2012.
  • The Expert Group on Innovation in the Regulation of Healthcare, brought together by the MHRA, will be looking at various aspects of the regulation of medicines. For now, it will focus on regulation of pharmaceuticals,  including a review of the Early Access Scheme consultation and helping develop a clearer understanding of the various models of adaptive licensing.

Global Marketing of the UK

  • The government hosted the Healthcare and Life Sciences Global Business Summit in London on 2 August, attended by over 300 delegates, where the UK was promoted as an investment opportunity.
  • UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) is adopting a new global communication approach with two main pillars:
    • The development of a “Invest in UK Life Science core proposition” (I think that’s a guide to why people should come to invest here) for use by the whole UK life science community.
    • And a campaign to highlight the evolving strengths of UK life sciences, for example the first four core themes will be Dementia and Neuroscience, Translational Medicine, Stratified Medicine, and Medical Technologies.
  • UKTI will also be strengthening support for venture capital (private investment in start-up biotech companies), inlcuding creating a Venture Capital Unit to increase direct investment into UK companies and UK funds.

Skills, Talent and Workforce

  • NIHR is awarding eight new Research Professorships, offering promising individuals long-term funding support in the early parts of their career. Being NIHR, this will focuss on translational research scientists and clinicians.
  • The Society of Biology launched their undergraduate degree accreditation programme in March 2012. This aims to address industry’s concern about the varied quantity and quality of practical training, numerical and analytical skills offered by biological degrees.
  • The pilot phase of Cogent’s High level Apprenticeship (HLA) for Professional Technicians was launched in February 2012. The HLAs will provide an alternative pathway to enter the life sciences industry at the technician level.
  • Early in 2012, the Technical Apprenticeship Service (TAS) ‘One-stop shop’ for employers in science-based sectors got up and running, helping to source training providers for employers and make the apprenticeship programme more accessible to business.
  • A (further?) one-stop shop website for life sciences skills information is currently being developed. It will provide details of placements, apprenticeships, mentoring, and research and careers advice for existing and potential employees.

What next?

The government acknowledges that this is a long-term project covering many years and pledges to keep working with the sector to deliever it.

The strategy also goes hand in hand with adoption and diffusion of innovation in the NHS – to ensure that there is a market for the products of the life science sector and that patients stand to benefit from these initiatives. Sir David Nicholson’s report ‘Innovation, Health and Wealth’ set to address these needs and David Willetts says we can expect an update on progress with that very soon.

Posted in: Policy