BIA analysis of party manifestos

With just over two weeks to go until the General Election, all parties are in full campaign mode. Earlier this month, the BIA published our Biotech Manifesto, outlining the sector’s policy priorities for the next Government.

Throughout last week, the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens published their manifestos. In this blog, the BIA’s policy and public affairs team helps you cut through the election noise by summarising what the parties’ manifesto policies mean for biotech across the three key areas in our own manifesto: R&D investment, post-Brexit medicines regulation and patient access to medicines.

 

R&D investment 

R&D is the beating heart of the biotech sector. Without it, none of the sector’s contributions to patients and the UK economy would be possible. All parties have answered the BIA’s call to raise public and private R&D investment but take different approaches. They also each have their own industrial strategies and plans to increase access to long-term capital.

Conservative Party

Boris Johnson’s forward explicitly mentions bioscience and the manifesto promises to “make the UK the leading global hub for life sciences”.

The Conservatives have held to their existing commitment to raise public and private R&D investment to 2.4% of GDP but interestingly do not set a target date in their manifesto (it was previously 2027). They do however promise the “fastest ever increase” in public investment. The costing document says this will be £7.3bn additional spending by 2023/24. Boris has separately promised a “doubling” of R&D spending to £18bn in the next Parliament, it’s not clear how that will be achieved from this manifesto. They will create a new research funding agency outside UKRI, double funding for dementia research, and invest in health data systems, such as genetic sequencing carried out at the UK Biobank and Genomics England.   

The other big announcement for life sciences is increasing the R&D Expenditure Credit (RDEC) for large companies from 12% to 13%, and including data as eligible expenditure, which has been a top BIA ask since 2017.  They have also committed to continuing the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) and reforming Entrepreneurs’ Relief.

The Conservatives promise to unlock long-term capital in pension funds to invest in and commercialise our scientific discoveries, which is another thing the BIA has campaigned for (and was already being pursued by the last Government).

Labour Party

Labour is committed to kick-starting a ‘Green Industrial Revolution’ to tackle climate change and drive economic growth. The Green Industrial Revolution includes societal challenges such as plastic waste, the ageing population and antibiotic resistance.

For Labour, all its innovation policies fall under this ‘Green Industrial Revolution’, including its pledges to create an ‘innovation nation’ and increase R&D investment to 3% of GDP by 2030. They will achieve the target by “increasing direct support for R&D and reforming the innovation ecosystem to better ‘crowd in’ private investment”. Labour is also clear that they want new technologies invented in the UK to also be engineered, manufactured and exported from here.

In addition, Labour will create a National Investment Bank, which will be backed a network of Regional Development Banks and provide £250 billion of lending for enterprise, infrastructure and innovation over 10 years. The banks will be directed to lend in line with the overall mission to decarbonise the economy, improve productivity and create good jobs around the country. Labour is in favour of continued participation in EU funding programmes.

Fiscal R&D incentives, such as R&D tax credits, are not mentioned in the manifesto itself but in the costing document they commit to phasing them out for large corporations and abolishing the Patent Box over this Parliament (which is due to sit for a five-year period), while keeping the R&D tax credit scheme for SMEs. They also commit to scrapping Entrepreneurs Relief and consult on a “better form of support for entrepreneurs”. Alongside these measures, the Treasury and an expert panel will conduct a review of corporate tax reliefs.

Liberal Democrats

The Lib Dems highlight their intention to create an innovation-led economy, with policies in line with what the BIA has called for. The party wants to make the UK the best place in the world for innovation-led business, while noting the R&D investment is lagging behind other countries. Key policies include a target of R&D representing 3% of GDP and plan to meet that goal, with an interim target of 2.4% by 2027, doubling innovation spending in the UK and reforming the British Business Bank to help it to perform a more central role in the economy by tackling the shortage of equity capital for growing firms and providing long-term capital for medium-sized businesses.

The manifesto includes a pledge to allow companies in the tech sector to claim R&D tax credits against the cost of datasets and cloud computing (called for by the BIA). They will also seek to simplify the regulatory landscape and speed up regulatory change.

Green Party

The Greens have promised a total of £6bn in R&D funding for industry. It is not clear how they would distribute this, and which sectors would receive what, although clearly renewable energy and decarbonising technologies would be the priority. 

They also propose banning research using primates, dogs and cats, and working towards banning all animal research in the future.

 

Post-Brexit medicines regulation 

The UK’s membership of the EU ensures earlier access to medicines for patients, assures the UK’s global standing in delivering clinical trials and ensures the highest levels of safety and pharmacovigilance. Here, each party has quite a different approach to the UK’s future relationship with the EU on regulation.

Conservative Party

The manifesto is quiet on the Conservative’s plans for medicines regulation post-Brexit. It talks about EU regulation holding back innovation – though not specifically in life sciences – and of ambitious trade deals, in which they are keen to point out the price of medicines will not be on the table. The future relationship with the EU will keep the UK out of the Single Market, out of any form of customs union, and end the role of the European Court of Justice.

Labour Party

Labour is committed to negotiating a new Brexit deal which protects jobs, rights and the environment and avoids a hard border in Northern Ireland. While medicines regulation is not explicitly mentioned, the deal would be based on “close alignment” with the Single Market to ensure a strong future economic relationship with the EU and continued participation in EU agencies. Another key aspect of the deal would be a permanent and comprehensive UK wide customs union to protect the manufacturing industry and allow the UK to benefit from joint UK-EU trade deals.

Liberal Democrats

Opposition to Brexit has defined the Liberal Democrats and their election campaign, and their manifesto reflects that. As their main goal is to prevent the UK for leaving the EU by revoking Article 50, their policies on the future regulatory alignment are limited. Instead, they are hoping for an optimistic £50 billion windfall from stopping Brexit.

Green Party

The Greens will provide a people’s vote on leaving the EU and would campaign to remain, and work collaboratively with other member states to reform it. This includes making the European Parliament the main legislative body.

 

Patient access to medicines

As science advances, medicines are becoming available that can transform the lives of patients. The way new medicines are assessed for use in the NHS are increasingly becoming a politically contested issue – with some stark differences to both NHS funding and ways of working with the life sciences industry.  

Conservative Party

The centrepiece for access to medicines policy is a new Innovative Medicines Fund – an extension and expansion of the existing Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF) – that will provide access to new medicines, particularly those for rare diseases, before they are formally approved by NICE. Press coverage ahead of the manifesto being published said the fund would be £500m, but this figure is not mentioned in the manifesto and the costing document says it will be met by the Department of Health’s existing budget. In effect, it appears that it is an additional £160m to the existing £340m CDF annual budget.

The manifesto reiterates the Conservative’s existing promise to raise the overall NHS budget. Between 2018 and 2023, they say they will raise it by 29%, equalling £34 billion extra a year by the end of the Parliament.

There is also a commitment to speed up trials for new treatments, which the manifesto links to the increase in dementia research spending, so it is not clear if this is intended to apply to all clinical trials or not.

Labour Party

To enable patients in the NHS to benefit from new treatments, whilst also ensuring the UK continues to be a world-leader in medical research, Labour commits to putting the NHS at the forefront of the development of genomics and cell therapies. It also says Labour is committed to increasing the number of pharmaceutical jobs in the UK.

The Orkambi cystic fibrosis drug is cited as an example of how it is claimed that patients cannot access new medicines. The manifesto reiterates promises made by Corbyn and in the Medicines for the Many that Labour will use compulsory licenses if fair prices are rejected by companies for patented drugs. In addition, Labour would establish a generic drug company and play an “active role in the medical innovation model” to ensure rewards and incentives match the areas of greatest health need.

Labour is clear that all parts of the NHS, including medicine pricing, will be fully excluded and protected from any international trade deals.

On wider NHS policies, Labour promises to ensure NHS data is not exploited by international tech and pharma companies. They commit to increasing expenditure across the health sector by an average 4.3% a year. They also pledge to repeal the Health and Social Care Act and reinstate the responsibilities of the Secretary of State to provide a comprehensive and universal healthcare system.

Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats are focusing on NHS organisation, mental health, social care and public health. While there is no specific mention of medicines access, they have pledged a funding increase for the NHS (and social care) of £7 billion, paid for by a 1p increase on income tax and are also proposing a potential hypothecated tax for health and social care.

Green Party

The Greens would increase funding for the NHS by at least £6 billion per year each year, until 2030 (a 4.5% increase on the 2018/2019 NHS Budget).

They would also enable medical scientists to conduct research on psychoactive drugs to develop new treatments for mental and physical illnesses.

 

Conclusion

Each party has some welcome policies for the life sciences sector and we look forward to engaging with all parties in the new Parliament and working closely with the next Government on how best to implement their manifesto pledges.

The BIA has an extensive public affairs programme, including jointly running the APPG for Life Sciences and our annual Parliament Day. These complement our engagement with individual MPs throughout the year to ensure the UK life sciences sector’s voice is well represented to policy makers.

We cannot predict the result of the vote on 12 December, but you can stay up to date with the latest polling here