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Life Sciences Industrial Strategy

Volume 638: debated on Tuesday 20 March 2018

1. What progress his Department is making on implementing the Government's Life Sciences Industrial Strategy. (904459)

The UK has a fantastic life sciences industry. As a result of the sector deal announced in December, a further £210 million is being invested in research and £162 million in medical manufacturing.

Patient outcomes can be improved by sharing big datasets and integrating new technologies, such as artificial intelligence, across the NHS. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the NHS’s plans to digitise and adapt to the fourth industrial revolution?

I am looking forward to reading my hon. Friend’s report into this topic in May. We are a bit of a curate’s egg in this country. We have five of the world’s top 10 medical research universities and more than double the number of Nobel prizes of France, so we do incredibly well on the research side, but some of our hospitals are still running on paper, which is totally inappropriate. That is why we are determined to implement the Wachter review.

Co-operation in medical research, science and innovation with our European partners must not be hindered by a bad Brexit deal. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that UK patients are not left behind during the negotiations?

Let me reassure the hon. Gentleman—as a doctor, he is very conscious of such issues—that the absolute need to ensure that we have an uninterrupted supply of the most critical drugs is forefront in our minds. We are confident that we will be able to achieve that, but we also want great collaboration with European universities, which is why we have said that we would be happy to be an associate member of the European Medicines Agency.

Part of the life sciences strategy is about ensuring that we have the skills for the future. May I thank the Secretary of State for the fantastic news about the five new medical schools opening in the country, including in Chelmsford?

I am most grateful for those thanks, and I am looking forward to many more doctors coming from Chelmsford.

The Secretary of State will be aware that one of the factors stifling innovation is the difficulty of rapid-growth companies in crossing the so-called valley of death. Since the establishment in the coalition Government years of the business growth fund, the biosciences fund and the British Business Bank, how far is the sector from crossing the valley of death?

I hope that we are crossing the valley into eternal life because we have a fantastic life sciences industry that is worth £61 billion and employs 250,000 people. The right hon. Gentleman is right—he was involved in this when he was Business Secretary—that part of that is about having close links with the key people who make decisions about where to invest their resources.

With companies such as UltraLinq raving about Belfast’s ability to provide technology support and skills from local universities, will the Secretary of State confirm what steps he is taking to invest departmental moneys in universities to set up life sciences skill centres in co-operation with the Department for Education?

I reassure the hon. Gentleman that we are conscious of the importance of a good outcome to the Brexit talks for universities, including Queen’s University Belfast, for precisely the reason raised by the hon. Member for Stockton South (Dr Williams) earlier. There are excellent research links with universities all over the world, but it is particularly important that we carry on working with European universities.