UK aims to be a life sciences superpower following COVID-19

UK aims to be a life sciences superpower following COVID-19
© iStock-Rapeepat Pornsipak

The UK is set to improve research, treatment, care, and clinical decision-making as part of plans to make the country a life sciences superpower following COVID-19.

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. Significant advancements have been made in the sector since the pandemic, from finding innovative treatments for COVID-19 and launching the first Antivirals Taskforce, to rolling out its world-leading vaccination programme.

Life sciences superpower

To help achieve this ambition, Hancock announced £37m worth of new investments in genomics projects and data-driven initiatives.

Genomics England projects supporting the implementation of the Genome UK strategy will receive £17m, 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.

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.”

New support for the UK Functional Genomics Initiative will drive groundbreaking approaches to improve understanding of how genetic changes cause disease. Genomics sequencing will be used as a routine part of everyday diagnosis and treatment.

The remaining £20m 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, including investment in clinical trials, funding to develop medicines and vaccines, health technologies to support cutting-edge research such as the COVID-19 vaccine trials, and studies supporting the earlier detection of disease.

Medicines and Diagnostics Manufacturing Transformation Fund

Hancock pledged to make the UK a global leader in manufacturing, especially for medicines, to grow UK-based business and encourage investment, highlighting the establishment of the new Medicines and Diagnostics Manufacturing Transformation Fund.

Hancock 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.”

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