UK to announce funding boost for life sciences


The UK government is trying to placate the disgruntled life sciences industry by investing in mining health data and increasing the domestic manufacturing of vaccines and drugs. 

Ministers are expected on Friday to unveil more than £150mn of funding for the UK Biobank, a pioneering genomics project, to quadruple its research capacity to advance scientists’ and drugmakers’ understanding of human biology.

The biobank will build a new facility in Manchester to store its 16mn samples and upgrade its IT infrastructure, according to officials.

Pharmaceutical executives have strongly criticised the government for sharply increasing a tax on sales of drugs to the NHS, claiming it is undermining its own vision to make the UK a world leader in life sciences. 

Pascal Soriot, AstraZeneca’s chief executive, said in February that drugmakers should not be made to pay for the “explosion” of NHS costs, while US pharma groups Eli Lilly and AbbVie quit the pricing agreement with the NHS. 

The announcement is part of a package of measures that the government is expected to unveil on Friday to boost Britain’s life sciences.

On Thursday, industry leaders will meet the chancellor, the science and technology secretary and the health secretary to discuss plans for the sector.

Pharmaceutical companies including AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson already work with the UK Biobank to access genomic data. The government believes the new funding could unlock a further investment of £70mn from the private sector. 

Whitehall officials said the UK is a “life sciences giant by any measure”, and the science and technology secretary believes the government should “double down” on this strength.

“Backing the sector through financial investment, expanding the pipeline of world-class talent and ensuring regulation is fit for purpose is a no-brainer that will deliver significant benefits for the UK — for both economic growth and public health,” they said.

The industry has also raised concerns about a drop in clinical trials conducted in the NHS in the past five years, arguing the UK is not making the most of the single health system that should make it easier to do research.

Last month, Emma Walmsley, GSK chief executive, asked prime minister Rishi Sunak to increase industry’s access to anonymised NHS patient data. 

The government will unveil new measures designed to make it easier for drugmakers to conduct trials in the NHS this week, according to one person familiar with the plans.

The UK is also expected to announce on Friday a £38mn capital fund to incentivise investment in biomanufacturing to improve the country’s ability to respond to future health emergencies.

It is also increasing funding for a programme to invest in the latest technologies for vaccines and drugs, and to boost the skills needed for advanced manufacturing. 

The announcement comes after the UK sold its flagship vaccine manufacturing centre near Oxford to contract manufacturer Catalent last year.

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