16 Mar 2023

The UK Budget: a shot in the arm for the global ‘science superpower’ vision

In turbulent times and with a critical need for growth, British politicians have recently reached for the rhetoric of the ‘science superpower’ as a unifying, transcendent, forward thinking theme.

Louie Freeman-Bassett

Britain has always had key strengths in these areas. A global life sciences sector, some of the world’s leading universities and an open and highly skilled R&D workforce. The challenge has always been to meld those into something greater than the sum of their parts, and optimise policy behind that vision.

In his Autumn Statement last year, the then new Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, marked life sciences as one of his key growth industries and tasked Chief Scientific Advisor, Sir Patrick Valance, with understanding how we should change regulation to improve the safe, swift introduction of new technologies. 

And in yesterday’s budget, to the broad approval of the sector, they started to deliver.

Alongside the tax incentives designed to nurture SMEs and retain big business, was an important development in the drug approval process aiming to continue the re-integration of the UK into a global network of regulatory partners.

The announcement focused on building new ‘recognition routes’ through the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and their counterparts in the US (FDA), Europe (EMA) and Japan (PMDA), building on pre-existing partnerships through Access Consortium and Project Orbis.  

Backed up by £10m in additional funding over the next two years which also looks to improve internal processes at the regulator, this new global ambition aims to fast track approvals of ‘best in class medical products’ already green-lit in partner countries from 2024.

The idea is of course nothing new and forms part of a decade old trend, but its centrality in yesterday’s Budget, and increasingly in British politics, is a reassuring signal that the UK is re-establishing itself as a global life sciences hub. This is also the first tangible dividend for industry from the decision to separate the MHRA from the European regulatory orbit. 

The sentiment has echoed around the sector as well with the likes of the ABPI and AMRC welcoming the global ambition and domestic reforms to boost competitiveness.

The proof, as ever, will be in the pudding, and we look forward to hearing more on how the UK government and its wealth of world-class health and sciences companies can work together to forge a global future for life sciences.    

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