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The Chancellor unveils £650 million package to drive growth in British life sciences

Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor, has this week revealed his ‘Life Sci for Growth’. Consisting of a multi-prong approach, it follows the efforts earlier this year in his ‘budget for growth’ and the Prime Minister’s ‘Science and Technology Framework’, all of which are designed to make the UK a ‘science superpower’.

In reality, a number of this week’s announcements have already been trailed. For example, funding for a new railway line connecting Oxford and Cambridge, two points of the UK’s ‘Golden Triangle’. However, there are a number of new policy announcements that will be of particular interest to start-ups and investors in life sciences.

Clinical trials: One announcement is a promise to change the regulatory process by which clinical trials are approved. This is coupled with £121 million of funding (some already committed) to expedite the trial process. This comes days after the Labour Party has also promised to make the NHS more open to private companies and clinical trials.

Upgrading data storage: One of the UK’s competitive advantages in the race for life sciences investment has been the large data sets held by different government or non-profit bodies. There is a commitment to invest £154 million (funding from UK Research and Innovation) in a range of data-driven projects. This includes upgrades to UK Biobank and a new facility at Manchester Science Park.

Encouraging pension fund investment: A recent hot topic in the sector has been what the UK can do to encourage more British pension funds to invest in domestic companies. This has been cited as one of the reasons many biotechs choose to list in the US, despite the FCA promising reforms to make the UK more competitive. 

The Chancellor had failed to announce anything concrete on pensions in the ‘budget for growth’, giving space for Labour’s Shadow Chancellor, Rachel Reeves, to promise this week a new £50 billion fund to support high growth companies (following similar calls by the new Lord of Mayor of the City of London). As part of the ‘Life Sci for Growth’, £250 million has been promised in government support to create vehicles allowing pension funds to access science and technology heavy start-ups.

Manufacturing capabilities: Three new pots of money have been announced to develop the UK’s domestic manufacturing industry: £38m will be available in grants to prepare for any future pandemics, £6.5m to support high-skilled workers and £10m in cutting edge medicine. We have previously discussed the perceived need for more laboratory space in the UK, with no confirmed policy announcements. However, the Government intends to consult on including R&D needs (and specifically laboratory space) as additional requirements on planning decisions.

As with any Government announcement, there will be some analysis required to assess how much of the headline funding or policies are in fact new. However, what is clear is that Jeremy Hunt and Rishi Sunak intend to continue focusing on life sciences as a growth sector.

The ‘Life Sci for Growth’ does contain some tangible policy announcements to boost the UK’s infrastructure and funding environment. Entrepreneurs and investors will be pleased that this has come in the same week as the Labour Party’s own attempts to claim the sector as their own.

A £650 million war-chest to fire up the UK’s life sciences sector and drive forward the government’s priority to grow the economy has been unveiled by the Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt


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