The UK’s vibrant, international biopharmaceutical industry benefits from a long-term vision and partnership with government, and it’s supported by a world-class talent base.
UK researchers have played a key role in global science endeavours and breakthroughs, such as the Human Genome Project, with the UK’s Wellcome Sanger Institute leading nearly a third of the effort. The UK has also led on many ground-breaking world-first research efforts, such as the formation of the UK Biobank, the National Institute for Health Research, and the 100,000 Genomes Project. Building on these capabilities the country has developed a core biopharma industry with £36.7 billion in annual turnover and a service and supply chain industry worth another £18.4 billion in 2019.
Government and industry aim to capitalise on the UK’s existing competitive advantages, by setting and taking action to make the UK the home of medical innovation, supporting higher risk science, and building on the UK’s world-class clinical research environment.
The UK is a vital market for global vaccine R&D and manufacturing. This follows on from a rich history of vaccine expertise, with Edward Jenner developing the first vaccine for smallpox in 1853.
The industry has been consistently growing since 2000 and has benefited from significant further investments over the last few years.
The UK has significant expertise in immunology, vaccinology, novel trials and delivery of vaccination programmes, and is one of the largest funders of GAVI, the Global Vaccine Alliance.
The UK Vaccine Taskforce, established at the start of the covid pandemic, will also leave a legacy of investment and capability for future pandemics and for wider vaccine development, manufacturing, and delivery.
Despite increased production cost compared to small molecules, the biologics subsector is receiving sustained interest due to the promise it shows in providing treatments for a wide variety of illnesses.
The UK continues to lead the way for biologics development, having discovered a number of the top selling biologics medicines and developed platforms for antibody discovery. The Centre for Process Innovation, National Biologics Manufacturing Centre and National Horizons Centre are also helping to solve industry production challenges, improve efficiency, and offer high quality training for the workforce.
The sector is in a very strong position heading into the new decade, with a 1,000% increase in life sciences investment since 2012.
A mainstay in the pharmaceutical industry, small molecules continue to have distinct advantages and have seen a boost in growth due to expanded applications and accelerating technological advancements. With annual turnover reaching £31.7 billion in 2019, the UK is already showing its strength in this sector.
The UK also has a track record of being able to make complex medicines at high quality, and has established national government funded infrastructure ready to work with businesses, such as the Medicines Manufacturing Innovation Centre.
Cell and gene therapies
The UK has grown the leading cell and gene therapy cluster in Europe, and the largest outside of the US. These advanced therapies offer immense promise as treatments or even cures for a wide range of diseases.
The Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult was established by government as an independent Centre of Excellence to grow the industry, which has more than tripled in size since 2012 and now employs 7,000 people, up from 3,000 in just 2019. The UK hosts 12% of the world’s cell and gene therapy clinical trials, and manufacturing capacity has also expanded by 25% in the last year alone, particularly in Scotland and the North of England.
The NHS was the first health system in Europe to approve CAR-T therapy, one of the fastest commercial approvals in its more than 70 year history.
Precision Medicine has the potential to revolutionise the medical landscape. UK-led technological breakthroughs in genomics are accelerating cost reductions and expanding methods of applications which offer tremendous opportunities.
The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund invested £210 million into the sector via the Data to Early Diagnosis and Precision Medicine Challenge theme, and the National Health Service is the first in the world to introduce a genomic medicine service at scale and to apply whole genome sequencing in routine clinical care.
The global drugs market is growing dramatically. Global medicine spending is projected to increase at between 2 to 5% annually, exceeding £820 billion in 2024. Covid-19 has further highlighted the opportunities in this sector with record-breaking investment in 2020 of more than £12.9 billion in Q2 equity funding for the biopharmaceuticals industry, the largest ever witnessed in a quarter.
Biotech now accounts for a large, and growing, share of the global clinical development pipeline at 80% of the total in 2018. More medicines are also being approved than ten years ago, and two-thirds of launches will be specialty products for chronic, complex or rare diseases.
The UK offers opportunities across the country for companies developing both population health and precision medicine solutions. About two-thirds of the industrial workforce sit outside of the South East and London.
Key UK assets
Cambridge, London and Oxford mark the corners of the UK’s world renowned “golden triangle” for life sciences. The region is home to over 3,700 companies, over 193,000 employees and 19 of the top 20 global pharmaceutical companies, as well as top ranked global universities for life sciences and health sciences.
North of England
The North of England competes globally by offering lower costs and a consistently high-quality labour force and facilities. Activity is clustered around Manchester, Liverpool and the North East. The region offers expertise in genomics and biomarker discovery, cell and gene therapies, medicines manufacturing, immunology and digital health.
The Midlands offers one of the most concentrated clinical trials clusters in Europe, centred around Birmingham, and carries out the largest number of cancer trials in the UK. The West Midlands is home to one of the UK’s three Advanced Therapy Treatment Centres, established to address the challenges of bringing pioneering products to patients.
Scotland benefits from an integrated healthcare infrastructure and significant investment to advance R&D for stem cell-based treatments, in-vitro applications and precision medicine. With hot spots in Edinburgh and Glasgow and a vibrant industry cluster and supply chain, as well as growing manufacturing capabilities, Scotland provides a fantastic opportunity for companies.
Wales has leading global clinical and research expertise in wound healing, neurosciences, oncology and regenerative medicine. It’s particularly strong in precision medicine as it is home to Genomics Partnership Wales and its universities undertake a range of multidisciplinary research alongside strong links with clinical and business partners.
Northern Ireland offers investors very good value for money and a highly connected and collaborative setting, where global companies work with academia, health organisations and government. The region’s cluster of companies have capabilities spanning the whole drug development value chain with particular strengths in biomarker discovery and validation.
Companies benefit from access to world-class universities and life sciences infrastructure including lab space, science parks and manufacturing facilities, as well as incubators and accelerators in which to start up and scale up. A national health research network supports streamlined trials operations, and innovation support is available from the regulator, health technology assessment bodies, and the NHS.
Specialised clusters offer opportunities in high growth subsectors such as precision medicine, cell and gene therapies, vaccine manufacturing, data science and more. Innovators can connect to R&D opportunities across the UK, and benefit from both national and regional networks that can help to facilitate partnerships.
A few of the notable UK assets include:
- Medicines Discovery Catapult
- Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult
- National Biologics Manufacturing Centre
- Medicines Manufacturing Innovation Centre
- Francis Crick Institute
- Rosalind Franklin Institute and Harwell Science and Innovation Campus
- Laboratory of Molecular Biology and Cambridge Biomedical Campus
- National Institute for Health Research
Business and government support
To support the sector, the government has announced ambitious plans for how government, the sector and NHS will work together to make the UK a globally leading location for life science investment and innovation. A strong underlying business environment and agile and innovation-friendly regulation are also key to seizing opportunities in emerging technology areas.
UK Life Sciences Vision
UK Life Sciences Vision sets a 10-year strategy for the sector to build on the successes of our COVID-19 response and accelerate delivery of innovations to patients. The vision outlines seven critical Healthcare Missions that government, industry, the NHS, academia and medical research charities will work together on at speed to solve.
The Clinical Research Vision
The Clinical Research Vision outlines the UK’s ambition to remain a leading global destination for cutting-edge clinical research. The vision commits to making the UK a more patient-centred, pro-innovation and digitally-enabled clinical research environment, where research is easier and faster to deliver across all research phases.
Novo Nordisk UK is investing £100m in a landmark strategic alliance with the University of Oxford, the Novo Nordisk Research Centre Oxford (NNRCO) that will employ more than 100 scientists. With close proximity to academic centres of excellence in Oxford, London and Cambridge, NNRCO is focused on target discovery and translational research for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular
MSD (known as Merck & Co in North America) is investing £1 billion to create The MSD UK Discovery Centre, a state-of-the-art and multidisciplinary global research hub, located in London’s “Knowledge Quarter”. The operation will grow to house 800 people.