UK announces increased funding for life sciences

The UK government is trying to appease a disgruntled life sciences industry by investing in health data mining and increasing domestic production of vaccines and drugs.

Ministers are expected to unveil more than £150m of funding on Friday for the UK Biobank’s pioneering genomics project to quadruple its research capacity to help scientists and drugmakers better understand human biology.

The biobank is building a new facility in Manchester to store its 16 million samples and upgrade its IT infrastructure, officials said.

Pharmaceutical chiefs have slammed the government for sharply increasing tax on the sale of drugs for the NHS, saying it undermines its own vision to make the UK a world leader in life sciences.

Pascal Soriot, the chief executive of AstraZeneca, said in February that drugmakers should not be forced to “explode” NHS costs, while US pharmaceuticals groups Eli Lilly and AbbVie pulled out of price deals with the NHS.

The announcement is part of a package of measures the government is expected to unveil on Friday to boost Britain’s life sciences.

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On Thursday, industry leaders will meet the Chancellor, the Science and Technology Secretary and the Health Secretary to discuss plans for the sector.

Pharmaceutical companies including AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson are already working with the UK Biobank to access genomic data. The government believes the new funding could unlock an additional £70m of investment from the private sector.

Whitehall officials say the UK is “a life sciences giant by any measure” and the Science and Technology Secretary believes the government needs to “double down” on this force.

“Supporting the sector with financial investment, increasing the supply of world-class talent and providing fit-for-purpose regulation is a simple matter that will have significant benefits for the UK – both in terms of economic growth and public health,” they said.

The industry has also raised concerns about the decline in clinical trials in the NHS over the past five years, arguing that the UK is not making the most of the one healthcare system that would facilitate research.

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Last month, GSK chief executive Emma Walmsley called on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to increase industry access to anonymised NHS patient data.

The government will unveil new measures this week to make it easier for drugmakers to conduct trials in the NHS, according to a person familiar with the plans.

The UK is also expected to announce a £38m equity fund on Friday to encourage investment in bio-based manufacturing to improve the country’s ability to respond to future health emergencies.

It also increases investment in the latest technologies for vaccines and medicines, as well as funding for a skills development program for advanced manufacturing.

The announcement comes after the UK sold its flagship vaccine production center near Oxford to contract manufacturer Catalent last year.