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Chancellor’s ‘coronavirus budget’ also pledges big R&D gains

Includes measures to help businesses disrupted by the pandemic

British pound drug

New UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak has pledged to provide the NHS with resources to tackle COVID-19 “whatever the cost”, in a debut budget that also included measures to prop up businesses disrupted by the pandemic.

The centre piece of the measures is the £5bn ($6.4bn) COVID-19 Response Fund which aims to help the NHS, local authorities and other public sector organisations keep operating smoothly as the outbreak gathers pace across the country with as much as 20% of the country’s workforce predicted to be off work at any one time.

That figure is an initial allocation, according to Sunak, and more money will be made available if required. He also unveiled a £30bn package to boost the economy that included £7bn-worth of measures to support businesses and workers.

That includes a year-long suspension of business rates, meet costs for businesses with fewer than 250 employees of providing statutory sick pay to workers off work because of coronavirus and a system of loans that can be offered to small and medium-sized companies suffering cash-flow issues as a result of the outbreak.

Away from the coronavirus measures, there was very little mention of Brexit, but plenty to digest for the biopharma industry in a budget that seems to mark a return to the borrow and spend approach after years of austerity and cutbacks.

Top of the list was a pledge to raise R&D tax credits and more than double government spending on research to 2.4% of GDP in 2024/25, which was welcomed by the chief executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), Dr Richard Torbett, as “critical to the future success of our industry”.

The BioIndustry Association (BIA) is also delighted with the announcement of an extra £22bn a year for R&D, which means “the £200m life sciences scale up fund now becomes a reality”, according to CEO Steve Bates.

“We will work with the government so they can realise their aim of securing £400m worth of additional private sector funding,” he added, giving special mention to pension schemes, which have traditionally not been very active in investing in innovative UK industries such as the life sciences.

The aim is to “refill” the Biomedical Catalyst, a partnership between the Medical Research Council (MRC) and Innovate UK that provides support for life science projects.

The government has also revealed it will create a UK equivalent to the US Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), a body that funds high-risk, high-reward scientific programmes, with funding of £800m.

The creation of a UK ARPA “demonstrates this government is embracing opportunities to try new things”, commented Venki Ramakrishnan, President of the Royal Society scientific organisation.

“We must also continue to build on our great strengths in the basic research that feeds the innovation of the future and will ensure the UK maintains its status as a global science leader,” he added.

The BIA also welcomed funding for a new railway station – Cambridge South – that it has dubbed the “biotech line” and will speed up links between London and Cambridge, two corners of the UK’s biotech Golden Triangle.

Article by
Phil Taylor

12th March 2020

From: Healthcare

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