Annual research and development (R&D) spending in the UK’s pharmaceutical sector climbed by 6.9% last year, representing an eight-year high point, according to tax relief specialist Catax.

The new analysis, conducted by Catax, found that total pharma industry spending on R&D rose to £4.8bn last year, an increase of £306m from the £4.5bn recorded the year before.

According to the data, the increase in pharma R&D spending was the largest ‘real-terms’ increase seen in any sector, with the industry now employing 29,000 people directly involved in R&D.

Although the spending increase is positive, there are some concerns around the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the level of R&D investment this year. Research into vaccines for the novel coronavirus has seen the valuations of many firms jump while other sectors have suffered, said Catax.

“The pharmaceutical industry has been centre stage during the pandemic and it’s highly likely that its commitment to R&D investment will be bullet proof compared to many other industries,” said Mark Tighe, chief executive of Catax.

“Like aerospace, it is a sector whose fate is intertwined with scientific endeavour and it would not be surprising at all to see its total R&D spending increase this year, although the industry will have to wait until next November to find out,” he added.