Ahead of an upcoming general election, it is important that all political parties consider how they would support the life sciences in government – a key driver of health and wealth in the UK. Today, LifeArc welcomes the Labour Party’s announcement of their own Life Sciences sector plan. The plan was launched at the Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst campus, where LifeArc have drug discovery laboratories. 

Commenting on the announcement, our Interim Chief Executive Officer, Stéphane Maikovsky, said: 

“LifeArc works with all political parties to boost UK life sciences – which are a key driver of health and wealth. We are pleased therefore to hear Labour’s commitment to turbocharging investment in R&D in the UK. In particular, we are glad a Labour Government would prioritise the life sciences as a key growth sector – including by retaining and improving the R&D tax credits scheme, boosting access to finance, and developing skills. Our aim at LifeArc is to make life science life changing, and we will continue to work with this government and the next to deliver on that ambition.” 

What did Labour announce in their plan? 

Labour announced their plans to ‘turbocharge’ pharmaceutical research and development investment in the UK, if they are to win the next General Election. Of particular interest to us here at LifeArc, the Shadow Secretary of State for Science, Innovation, and Technology, Peter Kyle MP, stated that Labour will:

  • Make life sciences and innovation a key priority for the department of Health, alongside the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology 

LifeArc’s aim is to drive more treatments, diagnostics, and other life changing technologies towards patients. Coordination between science and healthcare is vital to achieving this – not least in government structures. We welcome this proposal for making life sciences and innovation a joint priority for both departments. 

  • Increase the number of spinouts coming out of universities 

LifeArc shared our expertise with the recent Independent Review of University Spinouts, and we’re working with key stakeholders to support next steps. We look forward to ensuring future initiatives to boost UK spinouts are designed in a way that reflects the needs of all the players involved, and crucially that helps more health innovations reach patients faster. 

  • Increase ‘access to finance’ 

The easier and more attractive we make it for life science companies to start, scale and stay in the UK, the better chance we have of improving patients’ lives with new innovations and maintaining the UK’s leading role in life sciences. LifeArc played an active role in encouraging and shaping the Mansion House compact agreed by the current Government. We look forward to working with the next Government – whoever they are – to ensure these reforms do in fact deliver for UK companies and ultimately patients. The life sciences industry needs to demonstrate its strengths as an attractive investment for pension funds – an area where LifeArc Ventures plays a key role.  

  • Maintain the current R&D tax credits scheme and patent box scheme, and evaluate the impact of the R&D tax credit scheme starting with the life sciences industry 

These schemes make it less expensive to do life science research in the UK – which is crucial for many of the small- and medium-sized enterprises we work with through LifeArc Ventures. 

It is positive to see life sciences prioritised in the tax credits review: life science SMEs are uniquely dependent on R&D tax relief, as they often undertake resource-intensive and extensive periods of ‘risky’ R&D. Any changes which make the SME scheme less generous will mean less life science R&D is done in the UK and R&D progress will slow. It would also make the UK a less attractive place to invest. 

  • set out the technologies and disease areas for which the UK should aim to be a frontier market; these could include cell and gene therapy 

These are exciting new approaches that replace the genes in our DNA or modified cells to treat and perhaps even cure disease. Unfortunately, they are expensive and complicated to deliver, especially without more skilled workers – as we highlighted in a report last year. That’s why it’s important the next government has thought about how to keep this key sector growing in years to come. 

  • Other plans laid out today include to: modernise regulation, introduce planning reform (particularly for lab space), boost skills, ensure the NHS is able to run world-leading trials and adopt innovations, and publish a trade strategy which sets out clear priorities for vital growth sectors like life sciences. 

In each of these areas LifeArc is active, using our expertise of over 25 years to inform decisions about how best to support the UK life sciences and drive more innovative health research towards patients.