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Life Sciences Industrial Strategy

Volume 785: debated on Monday 23 October 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the life science industrial strategy, published on 30 August, with regard to its findings on making the United Kingdom the best place for life sciences businesses to grow and on collaboration with the National Health Service.

My Lords, the Government support the life sciences industrial strategy’s ambition to make the UK a global hub for clinical research and medical innovation, and are discussing the recommendations with industry and its key partners to agree a sector deal.

I thank the Minister for that helpful reply, and am delighted to know that active discussions are going on. I have two specific questions. First, as the Minister will know, manufacturing in life sciences is the most productive part of the most productive sector of the UK, so what are the Government doing to attract more investment in that area? Secondly, and rather differently, what are the Government’s plans to support start-ups in totally new healthcare businesses?

My Lords, manufacturing is extremely important. As the noble Lord says, it is a highly productive sector of the economy. In the first wave of the industrial strategy fund, we are investing £146 million in medicine and vaccine manufacturing. With regard to investing in smaller companies, SMEs, we have a number of schemes that we are introducing, including supporting the AHSNs—the academic health science networks—and setting up innovation exchanges.

My Lords, the Lancet commission highlighted deficiencies in surgical care across the globe. Recent investment by the National Institute for Health Research, charities and the research councils has increased the number of clinical trials in the UK, particularly in surgery. Does the Minister support investment in surgical and clinical research to improve care in the UK and across the globe?

My Lords, we have an extraordinary record on clinical research, particularly on trials. In 2016 just under 700,000 patients in the UK were recruited for clinical trials, and the UK accounted for 29% of all trials that took place in the EU. So the story on clinical trials is a very good one and the NIHR is much to be complimented.

My Lords, the excellent life sciences sector is dogged by uncertainty around Brexit. It is experiencing a chill in investment, has problems in attracting and retaining talent, is losing out on EU scientific grant funding and collaborations and has the potential loss of regulatory alignment with the European Medicines Agency to contend with. Does the Minister not therefore agree that that makes the case for the Government to adopt the target, set in Sir John Bell’s excellent report, to achieve an R&D spend of 2.6% of GDP from the 2015 level of 1.7%? That is the most available and crucial step that the Government can make. What is the case for not doing it today?

My Lords, there is a strong case for increasing the amount of resources that go into R&D in the UK. It is true that about 1.7% of GDP goes into research at the moment, whereas the OECD average is 2.4% and many countries are aiming at 3%—Germany is looking at 3.5%. We share that aspiration. As the noble Lord will know, we are increasing the amount of money that the Government spend on research by £2 billion a year from 2020-21 and an extra £4.7 billion over the lifetime of this Parliament, which is a very big increase. This is one of those areas where we can almost never spend enough.

My Lords, the life sciences industrial strategy is a clear and comprehensive review of the biomedical and pharma sectors, but it misses out large swathes of the industry—namely, animal health and plant science. Was that narrow interpretation by the deliverers of the industrial strategy on the advice of the Government, or was it the interpretation of those making it? Can the Minister give us assurances that plant science and animal health will also be included in the industrial strategy sector deal when it emerges?

My Lords, it is true that the life sciences industrial strategy was largely based on humans rather than plants or animals. That does not mean to say that we will not be having a strategy for other sectors of the economy as well, including plants and animal science.

My Lords, one of the key proposals in John Bell’s report on the life sciences industrial strategy is the use of NHS data. What is the Government’s view of business, particularly global business, using NHS data?

NHS data is potentially a hugely valuable resource, with the huge proviso that we must always respect patient confidentiality and privacy. On that basis, the data that we have in the NHS from primary and secondary care, given that it is the biggest universal healthcare service in the world, could be of huge benefit in developing new drugs.

My Lords, in view of Sir John Bell’s recommendation that the Government should streamline the adoption of all new products into the NHS, is my noble friend aware that there is an explosion of new diagnostic tools using blood proteins and genetics, often led by British companies? These offer earlier and more accurate diagnoses, saving costs, yet these firms are finding that the NHS is very resistant to adopting new blood science diagnostics compared with other countries. Why is this?

My Lords, that is a good question that applies across the piece: companies find the NHS very difficult to sell into. The Government and NHS England are acutely conscious of that and we are, through our test bed, digital catalyst and EAMS programmes and our response to the accelerated access review, doing everything we can to improve the rate of adoption of new products into the NHS, but I have to say that it is not easy.