The government has published its response to recommendations set out in the Review and Refresh of Bioscience 2015 report to help the UK’s science base maintain its global ranking, but the Bioindustry Association says the plans fail to adequately address the financial issues.

Last year, the government’s Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform asked Sir David Cooksey, in partnership with the BIA, to review and refresh his previous Bioscience 2015 report, and in January this year 23 recommendations designed to help create an environment in which the UK life sciences industry can bloom and maintain a global competitive edge were published.

In response to these recommendations, the government has outlined key commitments that Business Secretary Peter Mandelson claims will “encourage the development of bioscience in the UK and to create supportive conditions for bioscience investment”. These measures include:

- The creation of a new stratified disease strategy by the government and industry to encourage and support the development of drugs designed for ‘niche’ populations;

- The inclusion of clinical research metrics in the National Health Service’s quality accounts, for a transparent way to ensure Trusts report to their local populations on research activities. Also, the government has set the target of doubling the number of patients taking part in clinical trials over the next five years;

- A consultation on how any changes to the current tax system might help to boost research activity; and

- The development to a new database of companies in the medical biotechnology, industrial biotechnology and healthcare technology sectors to provide a source of reliable data that can be used to measure progress and as a base for policy decisions.

Commenting on the commitments, Mandel said: "We want the UK to be one of the best places in the world to create, grow and base a hi-tech, high-growth company”, and that the “government and industry must work together to create a business environment that encourages innovation and investment in life sciences".

And Lord Drayson, Minister for Science and Innovation, said the response is “the first and key part of a broader cross government strategy on life sciences”, which will continue to be driven forward by the Office for Life Sciences.

The government created the OLS created earlier this year “to make a real difference to the operating environment for life sciences companies.” Drayson says the OLS will assess the tax treatment of intellectual property to help boost UK competitiveness, and that the government is committed to “working with a wide range of companies, through the OLS, to create an environment in the UK where life sciences can flourish, where innovation can prosper, and where the NHS is a leading customer of new and innovative medicines and technologies”.

The BIA has broadly welcomed the government’s commitments, applauding its response to some of the longer-term recommendations on regulation, such as taking leadership on the EU Clinical Trials Directive, and the promised tax review.

Disappointment and concern
However, the group says it is “extremely disappointed and gravely concerned” that recommendations relating to finance, such as the creation of an innovation fund, changes to R&D tax credits, and incentives to encourage pharmaceutical company investment in biotechnology firms “have been overlooked or rejected”.

“We recognise that government has done much to support the sector since 1997…[but]…overall we do not feel that the government’s responses have gone far enough, and are particularly disappointed that the issue of access to finance has not been addressed at this critical time”, said Clive Dix, Chairman of the BIA.

“What I am being told daily by members is that for biotech to become a new driver of growth and prosperity and play a leading role in driving our economy, as Government wishes, then company financing still need to be addressed,” he stressed.