Labour Party unveils Life Sciences Strategy

  • 21st February 2024

The UK Labour Party has unveiled its new Life Sciences Strategy, which it claims will create thousands of jobs and inject growth into research and development investment.

Part of its manifesto for the upcoming General Election, the party claims its plan will fast-track pharmaceutical research and development in Britain, increasing investment in the sector by £10bn a year.

Announcing the plan, Peter Kyle MP, Labour’s shadow science and innovation secretary, said: “The last Labour government laid the foundations for our life science success, and the next Labour government will go further.

“This plan is our commitment to grow the sector to its full potential.

“If we get this right, we can transform the NHS so that it becomes an engine of innovation, a driver of growth, and a public service that once again delivers world-class outcomes for patients.

Creating jobs

“Labour will work hand in glove with life sciences companies to tackle the biggest killers, reduce the number of lives lost to heart disease, stroke, and cancer, and create thousands of new jobs across the country”.

Wes Streeting, shadow health secretary, added: “The life sciences are key to our mission for an NHS fit for the future and pioneering breakthroughs that will transform and extend lives for the better.

“When COVID-19 struck, we saw industry, academia, and Government come together to develop, test, and roll out a life-saving vaccination that gave people back their lives, livelihoods, and liberties. This plan will ensure that NHS patients get better care and that more life-saving medicines are developed right here in the UK to help people live better lives”.

Under the Conservatives, Labour claims that the life sciences sector has declined, stating that UK shares of global exports are down from 9% to 4%.

Moreover, the share of global pharmaceutical R&D has reportedly fallen from 7.2% to 3.2% between 2012-2020.

And the Party argues that if Labour’s ambitions to restore the UK’s share of global life sciences R&D to 2012 levels is realised, this could increase investment in the pharmaceutical sector by £10bn annually.

Clinical trials

In addition, the Labour Party asserts that the UK fell from 4th in the world to 10th for phase III industry clinical trials between 2017-2022.

To boost participation and help find new medicines and treatments for diseases like cancer and Alzheimers, Labour would establish standing national registries for clinical trials, making data-enabled recruitment through the NHS App possible.

And Labour says it is committed to applying principles of certainty and stability to its support for investment in innovation, including by maintaining the patent box regime and the current structure of the R&D tax credits.

The plan also claims to ensure the NHS is supporting innovation to improve patient outcomes and commits to working with industry to set out the technologies and disease areas for which the UK should aim to be a frontier market, including cell and gene therapy, mRNA vaccines, and the use of AI.

Furthermore, spinouts would be encouraged to scale up in the UK, working with the UK’s world-leading universities to develop ‘founder-track’ options, where they can retain a greater share of equity.

Commenting on the plan, an AstraZeneca spokesperson said: “Patients in the UK rely on a vibrant and successful life sciences community and it is crucial that we all work together to nurture this dynamic sector by tackling present challenges and building on the UK’s established strengths, which this plan seeks to address.

“This includes ensuring that NHS patients have equitable access to the latest medical innovations, creating a competitive environment for investment, and increasing support for science and research.

Growth potential

“AstraZeneca is a significant investor in the UK’s life sciences ecosystem and is eager to work alongside our partners to deliver its full growth potential.”

Richard Torbett, chief executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, added: “With its focus on the long-term, practical measures to boost investment in research, and the emphasis on quality data to underpin future strategy, this plan will help our industry to deliver the cutting-edge treatments NHS patients need and deserve and help the UK to better compete on the global stage.”

And Michelle Mitchell OBE, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: “Cutting red tape will help get more trials up and running, get more patients joining trials, and make faster progress towards new treatments.

“But we need to see more staff time dedicated to research within the NHS, so patients can benefit earlier from promising new treatments.”

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