Preparing for the Spending Review | Part 4: Engaging government with our key messages

In this fourth edition in our blog series on the 2019 Spending Review, BIA’s Policy and Public Affairs Manager Eric Johnsson breaks down the key takeaways in a recent BIA report and from a roundtable with government representatives. The last blog in the series is available here.

A few weeks ago, the BIA published a new report, ‘Life sciences: Catalysing investment and growth’. It aims to inform the Government’s thinking ahead of the forthcoming Spending Review and makes the case for increased cost-effective public investment in the sector.


To coincide with the publication of the report, we also organised a roundtable with our members, civil servants and funders and to discuss the key recommendations of the report and how we can all work together to boost life sciences R&D in the UK. The roundtable was an opportunity to explore how the Government and funders can best enable life sciences SMEs to scale, create new jobs and bring their innovations to patients.

We had a great turnout with government and funders representatives including the Office for Life Sciences, HM Treasury, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), Innovate UK, the Medical Research Council, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and the British Business Bank.

As the timelines around the Spending Review and the incoming Government’s position on the 2.4% R&D target become clearer, we will update the report and continue our productive dialogue with the Government and funders. But for now, I thought it would be useful to set out some of highlights in the report.

Years of successful industrial strategy in action

The strength and breadth of the UK’s thriving life sciences sector is the result of many years’ successful Industrial Strategy, stretching from the founding of Celltech in 1980 by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, through the creation of R&D tax credits by the Labour Government in 2000, to the current Government’s modern Industrial Strategy.

The report includes case studies which celebrate the diversity of our sector by demonstrating how innovative SMEs all around the UK drive pioneering research and drive economic growth as a result of public innovation support through industrial strategy. Here’re some highlights from the case studies:

  • From two recent Biomedical Catalyst awards of around £1.5 million, Arecor was able to develop its technology and build commercial partnerships to leverage further recent private investment of £6 million – leveraging £4 of private investment for every public £1 from the Biomedical Catalyst.
  • Born out of the pioneering research at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and the 100,000 Genomes Project, Congenica now has global footprint and aims to revolutionise personalised patient care.
  • In just five years, Nightstar was able to grow from a single academic to a multi-million acquisition by a global pharmaceutical company through the long-term support by Syncona – demonstrating that biotech companies can scale quickly with patient capital.
  • By partnering with the artificial intelligence (AI) experts at the Medicines Discovery Catapult, BioAscent improved its cloud library and ultimately enabling its clients to conduct faster and more efficient drug discovery.
  • Synthetic biology company Prokarium used Innovate UK grant funding of £3.2 million to raise a total around £13 million from overseas angel and institutional investors – generating £4 for every £1 of public funding and accelerating the development of vaccines for unmet medical needs worldwide.


Continuing the success and increasing R&D investment

To continue the successful implementation of industrial strategy and to increase R&D investment in the sector, our report also sets out recommendations on how public funding streams, fiscal R&D incentives, patient capital and support for the wider life sciences ecosystem can be improved. We have developed these recommendations by consulting with our members, funders and other key stakeholders.

The formation of UKRI represents a welcome improvement to the science and innovation funding landscape. Our report sets out five principles to help inform UKRI’s thinking on how to keep public funding streams efficient in our sector:

  1. Balance challenge-led and responsive grants – to allow all types of innovation to thrive
  2. Sector-specific – to provide long-term consistency and assurance to researchers and investors
  3. Grants, not debt – to ensure it pays to start and grow innovative companies
  4. Maintain a variety of funding streams – to support the varied needs of life science SMEs
  5. Unbureaucratic and informed by the needs of the sector – to ensure SMEs are consulted, the right areas are funded, and the Industrial Strategy priorities are delivered

While public funding streams are vital for SMEs in our sector, they are complemented by other policy levers, which the Government and UKRI have at their disposal to ensure our sector can help meet the 2.4% R&D target. In our report, we set out several concrete policy recommendations to ensure the UK maintains a globally competitive business environment, enables the provision of more patient (long-term) capital for innovative SMEs and builds on our world-class life sciences ecosystem and science base.

With the new leader, priorities and shape of the next Government uncertain, we have published the report as an interim one, which we can update and develop further as we get closer to the Spending Review. We are continuing our conversation with our members, civil servants and funders to further develop our key arguments and policy proposals.

Right now, we’re gearing up for our annual Parliament Day next week, where we’ll take our members to meet ministers, MPs and other stakeholders to ensure that we all work together to achieve our shared goal of a prosperous future for NHS patients, industry and the UK economy.