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Reflecting on the last year in the pharma industry, assessing where we are, and contemplating where we could go from here

A figure with a choice of directions to goAs I approach the end of my first year in this role at the BioIndustry Association, I am delighted that many of my initial positive impressions about the life sciences sector here in the UK have not only been reinforced, but also exceeded.

However, the UK's life sciences sector currently finds itself at a T-junction: in one direction lies mediocrity as the result of a lack of investment in science, a lack of collaboration and a lack of spirit. In the other lies a great prize — that of the UK becoming the world's number one destination for life sciences. Fortunately for all of us involved in the sector, the latter is a more likely outcome than the former.

When you look at the UK's capabilities, I believe they stack up more than favourably against any other life sciences venue in the world.

The UK has four of the top ten universities globally, according to QS rankings, and 19 of the top 100. These universities, alongside our innovative biotechnology, pharmaceutical, diagnostics and medical devices companies, are producing top class science. The UK leads the world as a producer of intellectual property and scientific innovation on a per capita basis.

London is not only the world's number one financial centre, but is also one of the world's leading destinations for business travel. In addition, and specifically looking at the UK's biotech sector, there is an increasing pool of management talent that has the experience required to take companies through challenging times.

Comparison with the US
Many people say that the UK lags well behind the United States and it is certainly true that when you look at the US as a whole, its life sciences sector dwarfs any other. But it is not a unified sector, more a group of disparate, significantly sized clusters within a single nation. It is some of these clusters, along with one or two other global locations, that are the UK's competition for the title of the world's leading destination for life sciences. These potential competitors, like the UK, also have good science, good universities and good companies.

One significant differentiator it could be argued that the US destinations currently have over the UK is attitude. People in the US are not cleverer than those in the UK, or elsewhere, but they do have a 'can do' attitude that makes them more willing to take on the challenges they encounter and which sets them apart from the rest of the world. We in the UK need to pick up on this attitude, to ensure that we grasp the opportunities that are presented to us and make the most of them. Fortunately, I have noticed this change in attitude is beginning to take place.

Collaboration is king
In my previous comments for Pharmaceutical Marketing I have stressed the benefits that collaboration can bring. I truly believe that the trade associations, along with academia and industry, must work together to ensure that our agenda is not only recognised by Government but is also acted on.

In our recent meetings with health minister Earl Howe and minister for universities and science David Willetts, we have seen an understanding of life sciences in the UK. Additionally, we have seen business minister Vince Cable acknowledge that the UK should focus on those areas, such as the life sciences, where there is already a strong global lead established and where we have a recognised comparative advantage over other countries.

If the Government wishes to rebalance the UK economy towards more high-tech, innovative industries, such as biotechnology, that enable the UK economy to compete globally then investment in science is essential. Additionally, it is important to support investment in the development and translation of that research to ensure that UK innovations can make the returns to the Exchequer that are required.

We believe that Government should ensure that there are appropriate levels of funding available for both basic research and the systematic translation of that research into commercialisable products. Additionally, the Government should ensure that the R&D Tax Credit is maintained throughout the current economic crisis and into the recovery, which has proved vital for innovative companies, as recognised in the Dyson Report. Finally, for the UK to capture the maximum value from its investment in research and support of development, that exploitation needs to take place in the UK: we have called on the Government to complete the implementation of the 'patent box' mechanism.

We have the tools but now is the time to choose — success or failure. I hope you will join me as we make the turn towards a successful and sustainable life sciences sector in the UK, which delivers significant improvements in healthcare for patients and generates significant revenues for the Exchequer once products are commercialised.


NIgel GaymondThe Author
Nigel Gaymond
is chief executive of the BioIndustry Association (BIA)

To comment on this article, email

11th January 2011


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