A Northern Powerhouse for Life Sciences?

Every now and then, the term “Northern Powerhouse” is spotted in the headlines, and more often than not, the ensuing article is about calls for infrastructure investments. But there is exciting science across the UK, including in the North of England – so what does the Northern Powerhouse mean for the life sciences?

The idea of the Northern Powerhouse started under the 2010-15 Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government and continued under the 2015-17 Conservative government. With the then-Chancellor George Osborne as its main driver, there has been speculation that the idea has been dropped in favour of a broader national approach under PM Theresa May’s government.

However, it has become increasingly clear that the government intends to back the idea of the Northern Powerhouse. This was most recently confirmed in two speeches at the Conservative Party Conference – suitably being held in Manchester – by Theresa May and Chancellor Philip Hammond.

Their speeches followed the publication of a report by the Northern Powerhouse Partnership on how the North can boost its creativity, contribute £100m to the UK economy and create an extra 850,000 jobs by 2050. The Partnership’s business-led board is chaired by the Chancellor turned news editor George Osborne. Its report identified four key sectors which will drive this transformation of the North:

  • Advanced Manufacturing
  • Energy
  • Digital
  • Health Innovation

Of these sectors, Health Innovation is seen as a cross-cutting sector which underpins many components of the previous three.  The report explains that Health Innovation “links to the North’s excellence in research, applied science, digital and its advanced manufacturing and materials base”.

The Northern Health Science Alliance (NHSA) is working on how the North can deliver some of the key recommendations of the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy. Two of these key recommendations – improving the UK’s clinical trials capabilities and the better use of patient data – could be met through the innovative Connected Health Cities programme.

The programme has four Connected Health Cities in the North and seeks to improve patient health by making better use of patient data and technology. The programme will bring together the NHS, local government and charities with private healthcare companies to deliver health innovations.

The Salford Lung Study is a prime example of a successful public-private partnership in the North, which is not just pioneering in the UK, but the world. The partnership was led by GSK and digitally linked primary and secondary healthcare in the region to allow real-time data collection in clinical trials. It was great to hear more about this at the private roundtable event that the BIA hosted at the Conservative Party Conference, in collaboration with the ABPI, AMRC and BIVDA.

In its report, the Northern Powerhouse Partnership stresses that Connected Health Cities need £80m of government money to scale-up the infrastructure underpinning the Salford Lung Study. The report also calls for the creation of a £100m Patient Capital Growth Fund of public investment, leveraging an additional £100m private equity for health sciences in the North. The goal of this pan-northern fund would be to bring together its universities, research intensive hospitals and spin-out/start-up clusters and enable life sciences companies to scale-up. The government’s Patient Capital Review proposes a National Investment Fund, which could help support such a public-private partnership.

The BIA’s vision is to make the whole of the UK a top global life sciences cluster by 2025. To get there we need to capitalise on strengths throughout the UK. Exciting initiatives such as Connected Health Cities have great potential to drive the Northern Powerhouse while also benefitting the whole country, further strengthening the UK’s excellent life sciences sector and attracting foreign direct investment.


Written by Eric Johnsson, Policy and Public Affairs Executive at the BIA.

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