New data shows UK life sciences failing to reach its potential

New government data shows that the UK continues to underperform on its economic and research potential in life sciences, but could quickly unlock growth if the health system can unite behind innovation.

The latest ‘Life sciences competitiveness indicators 2024’, published by the government’s Office for Life Sciences, show that on a range of economic, health and research metrics, the UK is failing to capitalise on its strong historic and institutional advantages in life sciences [1].

The data shows that while pharmaceutical industry investment in UK research and development (R&D) remains the highest of any sector at £9 billion in 2022 - or £1 out of every £5 of total business R&D investment - inward investment (FDI), industry clinical trials, and exports continue to underperform.

Last year was the first time since 2012 that the UK had no Initial Public Offerings (IPOs) in life sciences. The value of estimated FDI in the UK fell by 21 per cent year on year to £0.8 billion in 2023. This follows a £0.9 billion fall in FDI the year before, leading to a total fall in FDI of 52 per cent in just two years between 2021 and 2023.

Annual recruitment to interventional industry clinical trials in England decreased by 9.2 per cent, falling from 19,984 in 2022/23 to 18,140 in 2023/24.

The UK also continues to be slow to use new treatments and innovation in the NHS. For example, the average uptake of new medicines per capita in the UK was around half of the comparator country average one year after launch, rising to 70 per cent after three years.

However, despite these headwinds, pharmaceutical manufacturing GVA continues to grow, reaching £13.7 billion in 2021. With the right government support, including recommitting to the previously announced £520 million life sciences capital grants programme, there is significant potential to drive further growth.

The UK has the potential to offer one of the strongest pharmaceutical workforces, ranking second among comparator nations, behind only India, based on its performance in graduate numbers in natural sciences, mathematics and statistics programmes.

The UK ranks third in the world, behind only China and the USA, for the percentage of global medical sciences academic citations. This demonstrates the quality of our academic institutions and reiterates the opportunities for life sciences collaboration.

Richard Torbett, Chief Executive of the ABPI, said: “The UK remains genuinely world-leading for life sciences in numerous areas – yet we continue to underperform on our potential.

“When we look at what is holding back UK competitiveness and driving investment, it is clear that embedding innovation in healthcare is where our biggest hurdle lies. This is why the new government needs to deliver on Wes Streeting’s promise to make sure the Department of Health and Social Care is no longer simply a public services department but also an economic growth department.”

ABPI’s ‘Manifesto for Investment, Health, and Growth,’ sets out a plan to drive better health and fairness to patients in the NHS, boost patient access to new medicines via clinical trials, bring more manufacturing jobs and value to the UK, and create more highly-skilled well-paid jobs in all parts of the country [2].

Key measures the ABPI would like to see from Labour in its first 100 days in government include:

  • The launch of the Life Sciences Manufacturing Capital Grants Facility
  • The rapid passing of outstanding UK clinical trials legislation to enhance the UK’s attractiveness for inward investment, including into research within the NHS.
  • The urgent appointment of a new Chair and Chief Executive to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA)
  • Increase the commercial flexibility in the NHS England Commercial Framework for New Medicines to remove barriers for companies to launch new medicines and indications so that NHS patients can access the latest innovative medicines.
  • Support the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to rapidly review the ‘severity modifier’ used in medicine appraisals.
  • Re-establish a cross-government and industry working group to examine progress in implementing vaccination-related policy.
  • Review and respond to outstanding recommendations made for the National Immunisation Programme by the Joint Committee on Vaccination & Immunisation.

Last modified: 11 July 2024

Last reviewed: 11 July 2024

[1] Office for Life Sciences, Life sciences competitiveness indicators 2024, 11 July 2024
[2] ABPI, ‘Manifesto for Investment, Health, and Growth,’ July 2024

The ABPI exists to make the UK the best place in the world to research, develop and use new medicines. We represent companies of all sizes who invest in discovering the medicines of the future. 

Our members supply cutting edge treatments that improve and save the lives of millions of people. We work in partnership with Government and the NHS so patients can get new treatments faster and the NHS can plan how much it spends on medicines. Every day, we partner with organisations in the life sciences community and beyond to transform lives across the UK.