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Maintaining the UK as a scientific superpower

07 Oct 2015

Zoe Freeman, Public Affairs and Policy Manager at the BioIndustry Association, on the need to invest in the science and research sector

As the Government’s comprehensive spending review approaches, BIA members have joined together to voice the need for stable, long-term public spending on science and innovation in the UK. The pace of development in science and research is rapid and government investment in the sector is vital if the UK is to maintain its globally competitive edge.

UK life science is a success story, worth an estimated £56 billion. Within this, the medical biotechnology sector comprises over 1,000 companies and employs around 23,000 people. Our industry is supported by a wider ecosystem of leading medical research centres, excellent universities including four of the world’s top six, and medical research charities that contribute over £1 billion in investment every year.

So why should the Government continue to invest in the sector? R&D undertaken at publicly funded institutions underpins the projects that industry partners take forward, and we have seen that with the right support, the translation and commercialisation of innovative life sciences products and processes in the UK has the power to deliver economic growth, job creation, increased productivity, wide-ranging societal and health benefits, and solutions to some of the key challenges of our time.

Due to the long R&D timelines of biomedical products (and therefore a long time until return on investment can be realised), in the UK – as with all our major competitors – state funding plays a vital and invaluable role in the life sciences industry, particularly for SMEs. When debt financing is not a viable option, state support for early stage life sciences R&D fills a crucial gap in the funding pathway, enabling companies to grow to a point at which they are an investable prospect for private investors.

Investors and globally mobile life science multinationals will seek out investable science from wherever it comes; public support such as that provided via the Biomedical Catalyst enables UK science to be developed to a similar technology- and investor-readiness level as state funding does for science in the USA. This approach is clearly working as over the last four years, the UK has attracted more than £3.5 billion of industry and private sector investment.

The Government’s transformative Biomedical Catalyst is a great example of the power of public funding to leverage private investment and stimulate innovation at an earlier stage than would otherwise be possible. The scheme’s expert review process and the part-funding by the Government means it effectively de-risks a project as a potential investment. To date, the scheme has awarded over £250 million to accelerate medical research, supporting over 180 business-led projects and leveraging over £100 million of additional private capital through initial match-funding, plus subsequent additional finance and wider benefits. Post award funded companies and academics have realised in excess of a further billion pounds in the form of additional private finance, grant funding, via licencing or through acquisition With the scheme’s first eight funding rounds now complete, we call for its continuation.

A competitive fiscal environment is also a crucial factor influencing companies’ decisions to invest in the UK. The BIA has previously noted the valuable role of the Patent Box, R&D tax credits and tax-advantaged investment schemes for encouraging and supporting investment in our sector, and we welcome the Government’s ongoing positive focus on this area.

To truly capitalise on the nation’s strength, we recommend the Government should at least maintain public investment in science and research in real terms. By continuing to support the pathway from basic research through to innovation and commercialisation, government funds will stimulate additional private investment and bring the UK’s overall investment in R&D towards that of competitor nations.

All industry eyes will be on the Chancellor as he delivers the Comprehensive Spending Review on November 25th, as continued government support and investment in science R&D and innovation will enable the UK to maintain its globally competitive edge, skilled workers and attract further industry investment.

For more information about BIA policy activity you visit our website.

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