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How the UK Government Plans to Lead the World in Life Sciences

on Monday, 07 June 2021.

The UK has all the ingredients to be at the forefront of life sciences, with the links between world-leading academia, industry and care system. Never has this been more apparent than the starring role the UK took in the fight against COVID-19.

The UK has already demonstrated its ability to lead the charge in the life sciences field, through actions such as:

  • the development of one of the leading COVID-19 vaccines through a collaboration between a world-leading university (Oxford) and big pharma company (AstraZeneca)
  • an innovative approach from the UK's regulator (the MHRA) seeing the first COVID-19 vaccine being administered in the UK
  • the use of the NHS to use real-world data to enable the re-purposing of drugs such as dexamethasone
  • the world-leading genomic sequencing of data.

Now, the UK Government is looking to build on all of that by announcing the Advanced Research and Innovation Agency Bill in the Queen's Speech.

What's in the Advanced Research and Innovation Agency Bill?

The Bill is being introduced by Kwasi Kwarteng, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. It will create a new independent research body, the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA), which will be empowered to take an innovative and flexible approach to funding cutting-edge science and technology. It will fund high-risk, high-reward scientific research, by empowering some of the world’s most exceptional scientists and researchers to identify and fund transformational areas of research to turn incredible ideas into new technologies, discoveries, products and services – helping to maintain the UK’s position as a global science superpower. ARIA will allow this work to take place at greater speed, with flexibility and minimised bureaucracy.

The Bill will equip ARIA with unique powers and freedoms, explicitly giving a much higher tolerance for failure than other UK funding agencies. This will enable ARIA to develop innovation at speed, recognising that failure is an essential part of scientific discovery. ARIA will have power to have an innovative and flexible approach to programme funding, including seed grants and prize incentives, as well as starting and stopping projects according to their success. This innovative approach to funding will give its leadership the tools and autonomy to push boundaries in search of new discoveries.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: "This Bill marks a momentous step forward for UK R&D – creating a bold, new scientific agency with invention at its core, putting the UK in a formidable position to respond to the most pressing global challenges of our time. The success of our Vaccine Taskforce has shown the value of putting power in the hands of our best scientists to make swift, high-risk funding decisions - free from unnecessary bureaucracy. With this Bill, I am determined to ensure ARIA upholds this winning formula.

"ARIA will be equipped with all the tools and freedoms it needs to succeed – placing our world leading scientists at the heart of decision making, stripping back red tape and giving our best minds license to invest in the most transformative research at speeds like never before."

The Queen's Speech described the Bill in the following terms: "My Government will build on the success of the vaccination programme to lead the world in life sciences, pioneering new treatments against diseases like cancer and securing jobs and investment across the country.

"My Ministers will oversee the fastest ever increase in public funding for research and development and pass legislation to establish an advanced research agency."

The Government has also announced that it will bring forward a new life sciences strategy in the summer.

What's Next for the UK's Life Sciences Sector?

In the COVID-19 pandemic, the UK led the world in so many fronts - from the collaborations between the leading academia, business and NHS care system with innovation, use of data, data sequencing, and through to an innovative regulator.

At the PING Conference 2021, to be held this year in collaboration with IQVIA, we will be looking at areas where the UK is taking a lead in life sciences as a result of the pandemic response, and we will be covering these areas further with some leading speakers.

If you would be interested in hearing more about these issues and being invited to attend the PING Conference, please contact Paul Gershlick in our Pharmaceuticals & Life Sciences team on 07795 570072, or complete the form below.

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