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Life Sciences Sector

Volume 558: debated on Thursday 7 February 2013

Our life sciences strategy, launched by the Prime Minister, has already triggered more than £1 billion of business investment in life sciences. That is good for growth and good for the NHS.

As my right hon. Friend is aware, Macclesfield and north-east Cheshire are well known for their strong base in life sciences skills and the economic contribution of companies such as AstraZeneca. In the light of that, what further steps is he taking to encourage investment in the north-west, and in north-east Cheshire in particular?

I pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend, and I recall visiting the AstraZeneca facility at Alderley park with him last year. There is a very strong life sciences cluster in the north-west. We are supporting it with extra investment in the new Manchester cancer research centre and in the Manchester collaborative centre for information research.

At a recent meeting of the Science and Technology Committee, Professor Dame Sally Davies, the Government’s chief medical officer, talked about the increasing amount of antibiotic resistance in disease and stated that

“the apocalyptic scenario is that when I need a new hip in 20 years I’ll die from a routine infection because we’ve run out of antibiotics.”

Will the Minister therefore tell the House what steps the Government are taking to fix what some have described as the “broken pipeline” in the development of new drugs?

I have heard Dame Sally Davies speak eloquently about that challenge, which is why the Secretary of State for Health will, I understand, be launching an action plan on that particular issue in the spring. What we are doing in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is backing investment and ensuring a pipeline of new drugs for the future. That is what the patent box is about, it is what research and development tax credits are about and it is what the new biomedical catalyst is about. We can be confident of the support we are providing for medical research in the UK.

I hope the Minister will forgive me for describing that answer of his as a tad complacent. The fact of the matter is that when we talk to leading academics and leading investors in business we find that they think that in life sciences we are lagging behind the other countries we are competing with—particularly China, but also many other places. They are worried that what will happen in life sciences is what is steadily happening in pharmaceuticals, whereby we are losing our pharmaceutical industry and it is switching overseas.

There is certainly a global race and I believe that the Government’s policies are securing us a strong position in it. We are not complacent, but the improvements in the tax relief, the protection for medical research and the innovations taking products closer to market ensure that when companies look around Europe it is clear to them that Britain is the best place to locate their pharmaceutical activities.

The Scottish life sciences sector is worth £3 billion to the economy and employs 32,000 people. Last week, Edinburgh’s BioQuarter announced that three new companies have just moved in. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as we have already heard, the life sciences sector is about more than the golden triangle in the south-east of England?

That is absolutely right. As well as what is happening in the north-west of England, the Edinburgh BioQuarter is of international repute and the university of Dundee is the centre of another excellent cluster of medical research. This is a British strength, not simply a strength in the London-Oxford-Cambridge triangle.