Life sciences leaders have welcomed the government's new industrial strategy, which gives science and innovation a prominent role in plans for post-Brexit Britain.

According to prime minister Theresa May, the new strategy is designed to help "deliver a stronger economy and a fairer society", "creating the conditions where successful businesses can emerge and grow, and backing them to invest in the long-term future of Britain".

"Our action will help ensure young people develop the skills they need to do the high-paid, high-skilled jobs of the future. That means boosting technical education and ensuring we extend the same opportunity and respect we give university graduates to those people who pursue technical routes," she said.

The green paper outlines proposals to further encourage pupils to study STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) subjects and explore options to incentivise growth in the number of STEM graduates, as well as a commitment for more apprenticeships and PhD funding.

Also, as previously announced, the government will invest an additional £4.7 billion by 2020/21 in R&D funding, a bigger increase than in any Parliament since 1979, to help bring the UK's spend in the area more in line with European peers.

There is now consultation on how to invest this funding, setting out options ranging from investment in local science and innovation strengths, and increased support for commercialisation, to investing in future research talent, May noted.

Chris Stirling, KPMG's global lead for life sciences, said he expects that this funding and support "will focus on encouraging companies, particularly smaller businesses, to be more innovative and to make better use of technology developments including artificial intelligence and robotics".

Mike Thompson, chief executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, has welcomed the plans. A successful industrial strategy "will help deliver a strong pharmaceutical industry for the UK economy and improve healthcare for patients," he said.

"Our sector is worth £60bn a year to our economy, employing more than 220,000 highly skilled people across the UK. If we play to our strengths, we can go even further and create one of the world's pre-eminent hubs for life sciences research and investment".

Also responding to the paper's launch, Steve Bates, chief executive of the BioIndustry Association, said: "It's great to see life sciences at the heart of the government consultation on Industrial Strategy. They are right to focus on investing in science research and innovation, developing skills, supporting business to start and grow, and cultivating world leading UK sectors like biotech".

"The Industrial Strategy should capitalise on the UK's strong fundamentals that underpin our vision and help attract investment to the UK, stimulate the growth of our domestic industry, deliver effective and efficient healthcare for future generations, seize the opportunity of the UK's lead in efficient and effective regulation of new technologies and demonstrate that the UK is open for business."

Brexit uncertainty
However, Stirling stressed that since the Brexit vote, there remains "plenty of uncertainty" in the industry.

"UK participation in EU research and development programmes is at risk, and scientists and other skilled workers from the EU are considering returning to their home countries. The regulatory environment is also likely to be significantly more complex as, currently, the UK relies significantly on the European Medicines Authority (likely to be moving out of London).

"These issues are still very real for the industry, but its businesses will hope [the] commitment by May will soften the potential blow."