Last month the Government published its new Life Sciences Vision, a document which sets out its ambitions for the sector which has helped not just the UK, but the world deal with the Covid-19 crisis. The document was published without the fanfare of the new Hydrogen strategy, but with a foreword from the Prime Minister, make no mistake, this is a priority for the Government. 

The Vision has the potential to deliver a step-change in health equity and make a huge contribution to the UK’s recovery from Covid, but implementation will be key.

The new vision, which is set to fall under the stewardship of the Government’s Chief Scientific Officer, Sir Patrick Vallance, sets out challenging ambitions for the UK’s burgeoning Life Sciences sector and promises significant Government support for delivery, the shape and scale of which will be set out after the next spending review.

The Vision sets out four core themes; building on learning from Covid-19 to tackle future disease missions; building the UK’s science and research infrastructure; supporting the NHS to test, buy and embed new innovations quickly and effectively and creating the right business environment in the UK for the sector to realise its potential.

The disease missions are broad and reflective of the challenges we face in human health: understanding dementia and neurodegeneration, reducing mortality from respiratory disease, treating and preventing cardiovascular disease and obesity, better understanding mental health, using immunotherapy and other strategies to improve cancer treatment and maintaining the UK’s position in vaccine development and manufacture.

Even without the achievements of the Oxford/AstraZeneca team who delivered the Covid-19 vaccine, and the NHS clinicians who discovered the usefulness of dexamethasone in treating seriously ill Covid patients, there are already many exciting UK developments to be championed and supported. From the UK BioBank in Manchester, through to ground-breaking research into the use of radionuclides to treat cancer being pioneered at Queen Mary, University of London and the world-leading gut health research being delivered by the impressive Quadram Institute in Norwich.

The Vision rightly recognised the need to create the right funding conditions for institutions like these to truly flourish over the next decade. Regulatory reform is much needed, both to speed up some aspects of bringing products to market, without compromising patient safety, and to tackle unintended consequences in compliance. 

On investment, it’s heartening to see that lessons have been learned about over-reliance on overseas investment and private equity which has led to the asset stripping of some of the sectors most important IP in recent decades.

The Vision also recognises the opportunity to create jobs and investment in parts of the UK that badly need help to recover from the ravages of the last 18 months, making good on the Government’s levelling up agenda and truly building back better.

But there remains a danger that the Government will over-rely on investment from Big Pharma and other sources, which may restrict the availability of treatments to those who can afford it or where it will be most profitable for the companies that hold the rights.

One of the key lessons we learned from Covid is that no one is safe until we are all safe, and that we cannot afford to be anything but generous with the knowledge we gain. We must build these principles into the way we deliver the Life Sciences Vision.

Access to the gains from this world-class research and the revolutionary treatments that result must be more equitable than pre-Covid.

That would be a truly world-leading Life Sciences Vision.

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