Daily Newsletter

08 July 2024

Daily Newsletter

08 July 2024

New Labour government backs pharma reform in UK

As the UK transitions into a Labour government, the pharma industry urges for boosted investment and talent attraction.

Akosua Mireku July 05 2024

“Change begins now,” said the UK’s new prime minister, Sir Keir Starmer, in his 5 July victory speech. Ending the 14-year Conservative party reign, the Labour Party has pledged to bolster the UK pharmaceutical sector through increased investment and regulatory action.

Starmer’s government is expected to appoint cabinet members in the coming days while junior ministers will be announced today and early into next week. The new members of parliament (MPs) will soon be sworn in from 9 to 11 July.

In his final speech as prime minister, Conservative Party leader Rishi Sunak hailed his party’s work to achieve a decreased inflation rate and implement the Windsor Framework for trade in and out of Northern Ireland. However, in a 5 July speech, Starmer said: “Our work is urgent - and we begin it today.” The Labour Party has already promised extensive change to the UK’s life sciences sector, setting forth plans for faster regulatory timelines, more investment and National Health Service (NHS) reform among other things. The pharmaceutical sector has been outspoken about the need for change to cement the UK as a life sciences superpower, bolster the healthcare system, and attract talent to the industry.

“During its campaign, Labour was right to single out the UK’s life sciences sector as a critical partner for their plans to deliver positive change and economic growth. A strong industry-government partnership will be vital to ensure that we continue to discover breakthrough medical innovation in the UK and ensure NHS patients are among the first people in the world to benefit from the latest medicines and vaccines,” said Richard Torbett, chief executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry in a statement responding to Starmer’s election win.

Life sciences investment

In the Labour Party's 13 June manifesto, the party committed to set spending plans for the next ten years, pledging money to research agencies such as UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the nation’s main public science funder.

The party departed from the usual standard three-year timespan for budgeting plans of this nature to “allow meaningful partnerships with industry to keep the UK at the forefront of global innovation,” according to the Labour Party’s manifesto.

The Labour government intends to invest at least 3% of gross domestic product (GDP) in research and development (R&D) in both the public and private sectors, said the shadow sciences minister Chi Onwurah in a May 2024 interview with the Financial Times. She added that the Labour government would also increase annual R&D expenditure by £10bn ($12.7bn).

In October 2023, the Labour Party declared plans for a new Regulatory Innovation Office (RIO) to address Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) backlogs. The new RIO aims to set and monitor goals for regulatory approval timelines, analyse areas for prioritisation and assist a “beefed-up” regulatory council.

“New technology can be used to grow the economy and deliver better treatments to patients. Good regulation is essential to build safety and public trust, but decisions need to be made quickly,” said Peter Kyle, the shadow science, innovation and technology secretary in a press release.

“Commitments to speeding up the clinical trials process by embracing technology and standardising documentation will be welcomed by the life sciences industry and should help to attract new investment and market entrants,” says Charlotte Harpin, partner in the health and life sciences team at UK and Ireland law firm Browne Jacobson.

Talent attraction versus immigration

In a 22 May statement, the health research charitable organisation Wellcome Trust said: "Long-term funding, an immigration regime that can attract top talent, and world-class infrastructure will unlock R&D investment and maximise the impact of science for the UK’s economy and place in the world."

The organisation has asked the government to reduce upfront fees for scientists seeking work in the UK. The Royal Society and the Physiology Society added to these pleas, calling for streamlined visa processes for researchers.

The Labour Party has so far promised to uphaul the points-based immigration system to reduce migration and form a partnership between the government and the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC). This collaboration aims to “ensure joined-up action to deliver the skills needed for growth, including priority sectors for our industrial strategy,” as per a 10 May press release. However, the party has also stated that it aims to reduce the need for international recruitment.

In January, Cancer Research UK reported that due to expensive Brexit-related visa fees over 75% of respondents to a survey said that they have faced challenges in recruitment and retention due to the changed EU-UK relationship. In a previous government report, it was predicted that the UK would need 380,000 new researchers in the next four years, and the charitable organisation argues that this will not be possible with domestic talent alone.

“There’s a global competition for talent and we’re losing out,” said the cancer charity in a January statement.

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