Industry-led plans to breathe new life into the UK’s £64-billion life sciences sector have been unveiled alongside details of £160 million in government funding to fuel progress in the field.

The Life Sciences Industrial Strategy report, penned by immunologist and geneticist Sir John Bell, outlines the findings of an independent sector-led review on how the government can work with industry to help the UK “become an international benchmark for success”.

The recommendations will now be “considered carefully” by the government and used to work towards a sector deal between government and the global life sciences sector, it said.

“We have created a strategy which capitalises on our strong science base to further build the industry into a globally-unique and internationally competitive life sciences eco-system, supported by collaboration across industry, government, the NHS, academia, and research funders to deliver health and wealth,” said Sir John.

The strategy is organised under five key themes – science, growth, NHS, data, and skills – with proposals to build on the UK’s strengths in each area.

Recommendations include reinforcing the UK science offering with a funding boost for basic science and also by improving the country’s clinical trial capabilities, and ensuring the country has the talent and skills to underpin future life sciences success through a reinforced skills action plan across the NHS, commercial and third sectors.

Elsewhere, it calls for a tax environment that will support growth and attract substantial investment, and the establishment of up to five regional innovation hubs providing health data to help researchers make better use of evidence available.

Encouraging collaboration with the NHS is also a central theme and, as such, the report is recommending that the Accelerated Access Review be adopted with national routes to market streamlined and clarified, including for digital products.

Delving deeper into the detail, the strategy lists measures to further improve access to innovation, including conditional reimbursement for therapies that have shown promise in UK based trials at the point of licensing, a forum to facilitate early engagement between industry, NHS and NICE to agree commercial deals, and expansion of NICE tools beyond the QALY to assess value.

£160 million to support advanced therapies, vaccines
Alongside its publication Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has unveiled £14 million in funding to support 11 medical technology research centres to further encourage collaboration between the NHS and industry in developing and bringing new technologies to patients through the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

In addition, Business Secretary Greg Clark announced the first phase of the government’s new investment in life sciences with funding of £146 million of funding for ‘cutting-edge’ projects, which is also expected to leverage more than £250 million of private funding from industry. The investment will be spread over four years and covers five major projects supporting advanced therapies, advanced medicines and vaccines development and manufacturing.

Mike Thompson, chief executive of the ABPI, welcomed the plans. The Strategy “is an impressive document which captures the importance of our sector to a successful post-Brexit Britain. We want the UK to be one of the best places in the world for discovering, developing and adopting new medicines and this Strategy provides the focus for all life science partners to work together to deliver exciting medical innovations for patients.

“We look forward to working with Government and other partners to implement these recommendations – including through a sector deal with the bio-pharmaceutical industry and a voluntary agreement on UK medicines policy between industry and the Department of Health. These measures will provide confidence for global companies to invest in the UK during and beyond Brexit.”

Also commenting on the strategy, Professor Sir Robert Lechler, president of the Academy of Medical Sciences, said it “recognises the importance of funding across basic and discovery science, and translational research.

“Maintaining and enhancing an environment which supports research across the whole ecosystem including academia, industry, the NHS and charities, is essential to allow the UK’s life sciences sector to continue to flourish,” he stressed, and also emphasised the importance of supporting life sciences clusters, regional strengths and cross-sector collaboration.”

The government will respond formally to the proposals in its life sciences sector deal, expected later in the year.