There’s no doubt that it’s been an unsettling time politically since the Brexit vote, and with the European Medicines Agency upping sticks to Amsterdam and reports of STEM professionals looking to leave the UK, you’d think that UK life sciences would be on a downward spiral.
But the picture that is often portrayed isn’t what we see on the ground. True, when the decision to leave the EU was announced, people were uncertain about what this could mean, but companies are still setting up here, students are still coming to our world-class universities, research continues to move forward, and digital health innovations are being developed every day.
London’s tech sector is the largest in Europe and the south east of England is fertile territory for digital health entrepreneurs, with one of the most business-friendly regimes in the world, a strong talent pool, world-class facilities, and access to the NHS.
There are many signs that innovation is alive and kicking: the pioneering 100,000 Genomes project head quartered at Queen Mary University of London; companies such as Cambridge Medical Robotics leading the way in next-gen robotics; and the NHS taking on new technology to tackle diabetes, heart conditions and cancer.
That’s not to say that we should rest on our laurels in this competitive global market. Which is why I was pleased to see that life sciences and technology featured heavily in the Government’s Industrial Strategy. With life sciences being one of the UK’s fastest developing industries and a new tech company being founded every day, it makes sense to exploit and build on our existing strengths to increase the pace of economic growth, and put us in a world-leading position in terms of health technology.
What is the Industrial Strategy White Paper?
The White Paper is the Government’s plan to create an economy that boosts productivity and earning power throughout the UK. It’s based on consultations with key sectors, and took on board the recently published Life Sciences Industrial Strategy report led by Sir John Bell.
The vision is to create the world’s most innovative economy, quality jobs and greater earning power, a major upgrade to the UK’s infrastructure, the best place to start and grow a business and prosperous communities across the UK.
What does this mean for digital health companies?
Sector Deals: Life Sciences and technology were recognised as key to the economy and investments have been made in a number of areas. Long-term strategic deals are being made in four sectors seen as having growth potential, including life sciences and artificial intelligence. New investment by MSD in a UK Discovery Centre in London could support up to 950 jobs, and diagnostics company QIAGEN will expand its Manchester presence, which could see the creation of 800 skilled jobs. These deals are intended to foster “new pioneering treatments and medical technologies” in the UK, to improve patient outcomes whilst simultaneously bolstering economic growth, and are the first of many to come.
An AI Sector Deal was also announced to place the UK as a global leader in developing AI technologies, to build on the work of Deepmind, Babylon and Swiftkey, with estimates that AI could add £232bn to the UK economy by 2030. The tech industry will be supported to develop innovative uses of AI through the ‘Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund’ and businesses will be supported with regulation that stimulates and facilitates innovation. An investment of £45m will support additional PhDs in AI and related disciplines, increasing numbers by at least 200 extra places a year by 2020-21, and aiming to expand the numbers in UK universities year-on-year into the next decade.
R&D investment: The Government has also committed to raise total R&D investment to 2.4 per cent of GDP by 2027 and increase the rate of R&D tax credit to 12 per cent. This ramping up of spending ensures we don’t get left behind in the race to deliver new products and devices in areas such as genomics, Big Data, and robotics.
Infrastructure: Digital infrastructure will be boosted by £1bn of public investment, including £176m for 5G and £200m for local areas to encourage roll out of full-fibre networks. The new ‘Transforming Cities Fund’ will provide £1.7bn for intracity transport; funding projects that drive productivity by improving connections within city regions.
For example, those that are based in Cambridge South, will benefit from a new railway station and connections with Oxford along a new expressway, making it easier to collaborate and meet with patients and stakeholders.
Innovation Hubs: In response to the life sciences review, the government will develop a number of regional Digital Innovation Hubs to support the use of NHS data for research purposes. It is proposed that these would each cover three to five million people and contain comprehensive and secure data in primary, secondary and tertiary care as well as social care and community data.
Our life sciences sector is one of the UK’s fastest developing industries, with a turnover in excess of £64 billion, employing 233,000 across the UK. The strength of the sector is based on the strength and depth of the science and technology base, coupled with the strong innovative and entrepreneurial capability that resides within academia, the NHS and the industrial base, in particular our SME community.
Whilst the Industrial Strategy has introduced some of the recommendations put forward by the Life Sciences sector, there is still more to be done to sustain our industry and we are working alongside the Mayor of London to push for increased investment opportunities, an immigration system that works for the sector and the appointment of a dedicated Life Sciences Minister.
Find out more here: MedCityHQ.com
Digital health companies can find funding opportunities here
Sarah Haywood is CEO of MedCity, a collaboration between the Mayor of London, Imperial College Academic Health Science Centre, King’s Health Partners, UCL Partners, Cambridge Health Partners and Oxford Academic Health Science Centre.