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Life sciences need urgent Government focus

With a new government now in place, there are questions to which urgent answers are needed if the Life Sciences sector is going to deliver on its potential and not become lost amongst the many pressing issues which Prime Minister Liz Truss finds herself facing.

As a global leader in its field, the UK needs the Government to reaffirm its commitment to Life Sciences and to set out its strategy for growth and investment. In the run-up to her appointment, Ms Truss described Life Sciences as being at the heart of her vision and said: “As Prime Minister, I will make it easier than ever to invest in Britain and make us a science and technology superpower.” Well now that she is Prime Minister, she needs to firm up substantially on the promises laid out in last year’s Life Sciences Vision, filling in the gaps and providing the detail that is needed to build on the UK’s science and clinical research infrastructure and create a business environment in which investment is forthcoming and manufacturing is encouraged.

Including our specialism in neuroscience, Discovery Park, a leading UK science park based in Kent, is directly focused on key elements of the most important objectives laid out in that report but we, along with other life science clusters, need to see evidence that the new Government continues to share the same agenda and one of the best ways it can do that is by appointing a new Minister for Science, a post that has been vacant since the resignation of George Freeman on 7th July. Convincing investors that the government is serious about fulfilling its promises will be difficult while that position remains unfilled.

This sector has huge growth potential. Investment in life sciences has a significant impact on GDP, and our start-ups are being snapped up by global players who can bring their technology, reach and cost-efficiencies to the process of bringing new treatments to market quickly, but to remain a life science superpower we need to look beyond the Golden Triangle and harness the work being carried out across the regions.

In Kent we’ve had excellent support from local government, but much more advantage must be made of the Life Science Opportunity Zones and in Kent we need to know whether the Levelling Up agenda applies to us.

At the same time, we must continue to focus on skills, joining the dots between education and academia, showcasing the career opportunities at all levels from schools upwards and working with universities to ensure that graduates are industry ready. Science parks, including Discovery Park, have a leading role to play in this, but we need Government buy-in to make it work, especially now when science is having to compete very hard with other sectors to recruit essential technology skills.

We have all learnt a great deal from the vaccine programme, but we need to lock in that knowledge by continuing to fund organisations such UKRI to support research and innovation while removing the undertow of unnecessary bureaucracy. And we need to engage the same concentrated focus on other areas, such as neuroscience, where a government-backed catapult could enhance connectivity and speed-up developments.

But the benefits of committing to all of this will be diluted unless we take an end-to-end approach, with determination on the part of the Government to build a stronger supply chain. At Discovery Park we aspire to create a manufacturing village and similar facilities need to be replicated across the country, but that will take serious investment.

So, before this Government gets very much older, it needs to put its cards on the table and demonstrate its commitment to the work that lies ahead. With sufficient political will, life sciences in this country could deliver significant elements of the Prime Minister’s sought-after economic growth.

Mayer Schreiber is CEO of Discovery Park.

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