How Life Sciences can help drive a sustainable UK recovery
What are we going to sell to trade our way out of this debt crisis? To unlock a sustainable UK economic recovery, we have to sell things the world actually needs. To unlock the confidence and sustainable economic growth we so badly need we need to gear our export and trade less towards the sclerotic Eurozone and more towards the fastest growing emerging nations of the world. The economies of the 'BRIC+' countries identified by Jim O'Neil at Goldman Sachs are growing at c7% per annum. That’s almost doubling over 10 years. Even a small slice of these markets would drive the UK to a sustainable recovery. How do we do it? I believe our Life Science sector has a key role to play.
The Life Sciences are about the 'appliance of bio-science' to solve societal problems - principally in the three core markets of medicine, agriculture and energy. The developing nations today need public health, agriculture and food, water and basic energy supplies. In the coming decades they will develop into major markets for more sophisticated (Western) bio-medicines, sophisticated foods and clean energy. Our life science sector can play a key role in helping them achieve that transition, whilst driving investment into our science base, and supporting the UK's leadership in clean energy, biomedicine and food science. The BRIC and Gulf states are investing massively in the life sciences. Competitor economies like Germany and the US are investing heavily in their infrastructure, science and innovation economies to position themselves as leaders in the field. This Spring the Obama Administration launched an ambitious Bioeconomy Blueprint setting out its ambitions for the coming decade.
Coming to Parliament after a 15 year career in biomedical start-ups, I was delighted to be able to use my experience to help Ministers develop the UK Life Science Strategy, launched by the PM in December 2011. It lays out a blueprint for an “integrated healthcare economy”. The core idea is that by better integrating our academic research base with the NHS and its reservoirs of public health data on health outcomes, we can position the UK at the forefront of the next wave of ‘translational’ ‘targeted’ and ‘personalised’ biomedicine, to the benefit of UK patients, NHS and economy. Britain can become again THE place in the world to come and establish the clinical value of innovative medicines before launching them commercially in markets around the rest of the world. The industry gets drugs launched more quickly at lower cost. We get earlier access to new medicines at lower cost. We have an opportunity to attract billions of pounds of R+D investment into our medical research sector, but to do that we need to implement the measures in our strategy. Protect our basic science base. Invest in our medical research infrastructure. Incentivise clinicians and scientists to work with industry. Make the NHS more open to innovation.
This is a deliberately long term (10 year) strategy. But the early signs are encouraging. In the first 6 months of this year the UK has seen 5 new early stage venture funds totalling over £1bn of private funding launched. GSK have announced a £0.5bn investment in an advanced manufacturing plant in the North West, and at this Summer’s global BIO conference and our Olympic Life Science summits the feedback from global industry and healthcare leaders was very positive.
I believe we can and should now adopt a similar approach to our agricultural science sector, for too long the 'Cinderella' of UK Life Sciences. Over the next 30 years world population will rise to 9 billion. The world will have to double world food production with roughly half as much land, water and energy as we use today. The global food security crisis is also a huge opportunity for the UK. Despite massive cuts in the 1980s following the lunacy of CAP wine lakes and butter mountains, the UK is still world-renowned in areas of agricultural science such as crop breeding, plant science and animal science. Breakthroughs in IT, genetics, and agricultural sensor technology are driving a new Green Revolution in agricultural productivity. For decades agri-science has been the poor relation in terms of research spend, and much groundbreaking British science has not been commercialised.
We have an opportunity now to unlock substantial inward investment and revenues from UK agri-science. With the nations and companies across the world now urgently investing in agricultural innovation, the UK agricultural research sector has the opportunity to win a large slice of the funding. We need to work harder to attract international investment into our agricultural science sector and more aggressively patent and commercialise the technology coming out of our research.
By better organising and promoting our world class agri-science base, and pro-actively brokering collaborations with key emerging nations like India and Brazil, our agricultural life sciences sector can join our medical sector in helping us rebuild a sustainable economic model from the ruinous ashes of New Labour's debt-fuelled boom and bust.
This article was published 4th October in The House Magazine, which is available to subscribers here http://www.dodsshop.co.uk/UK+Parliament/The+House.html