Not every wish on the UK’s life science industry’s list of requests has been answered by Chancellor Hammond’s spring budget today, but in setting out the country’s stall as the place to do business post Brexit, Hammond partially delivered.
There are no generous tax breaks, there’ll be no substantial changes to the UK’s R&D tax credits regime – which the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) specifically wanted to see reformed – but the Chancellor did a little better on making the UK a place to research, develop and launch new medicines.
The life science sector benefits from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) that will “kick-start the development of disruptive technologies that have the potential to transform the UK economy”. Admittedly it has to share the initial investment of £270 million in 2017-18 with robots, driverless cars and better batteries but there is a commitment to accelerating patient access to new medicines and treatments, something the ABPI was looking for.
Further good news came with the announcement that the National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF) will invest £250 million over the next four years into research: £90 million will fund an additional 1,000 PhD places, with around 85% in STEM disciplines; a further £160 million will support new fellowships for early and mid-career researchers in areas aligned to the Government’s Industrial Strategy; and more than £100 million will be invested over the next four years to attract “the brightest minds to the UK, to help maintain the UK’s position as a world‑leader in science and research”. These minds will come from “emerging research powerhouses like India, China, Brazil and Mexico”.
The Chancellor’s speech to Parliament focused very much on the need to overcome the persistent challenge of weak productivity, where we lag the rest of the G7 countries. For the life science industry it may be difficult to be tied to wider industry when its own figures suggest it punches well above its weight in the UK economy; the average productivity of a UK life sciences employee is £104,000 compared to the UK average of £49,000.
By Maya Anaokar