Wearable technology, diagnostic devices, personalised medicines and bionics are four key opportunities for the UK’s £70-billion-revenue life sciences sector, reveals a new report by Santander and manufacturing organisation Make UK, The Manufacturers’ Organisation. The sector’s revenue grew by £6.8 billion in 2017, the latest available information shows, with an additional 298 businesses and sites joining the industry.
The growth in wearable consumer technologies and diagnostic devices like smart watches and activity trackers, which monitor and record health metrics, represent perhaps the biggest opportunity, says the report. Alongside personalised precision medicine, these are expected to revolutionise the approach to medicine and prescribed drugs by becoming more tailored to each individual patient. The report further highlights orthopaedics 3D printing and bionics as a key future opportunity, with technological implementation in this area helping to improve the production of protheses, implants, pins and plates. Again, this technology will help enable tailored solutions for patients.
Collecting data via personalised devices does come with concerns about cybersecurity and privacy and, according to the report, the sector will be the need to balance the importance of collecting and using the data of its consumers with the need to protect their privacy and rights. The life sciences sector may be particularly exposed to cybercrime with companies needing to invest in protecting their products from attacks.
Philip Jennings, UK Head of Life Science at Santander Corporate & Commercial Banking said: “The UK possesses globally recognised expertise across the Life Science sector which attracts high levels of investment. New technologies and techniques are being continually developed to meet the increasing global demand for products and treatments. Santander is well placed to assist companies in developing their Life Science businesses and to help grow their overseas sales.”
Francesco Arcangeli, Economist, Make UK, said: “The UK life sciences sector has grown substantially over recent years to become a significant part of UK manufacturing. The focus should be on continuing to increase investment, which the government is planning to do over the next decade, as this will drive R&D and innovation, which is vital for the UK life sciences sector to remain competitive. The sector is in a fantastic position to be able to take advantages of both current and future health trends and we expect to see the sector continue its growth over the next decade.”
Research and Development (R&D) is also key to the future success of the sector and the UK government’s target is to increase R&D investment from current levels of 1.8% of GDP to 2.4% by 2027. The global market for digital health services such as smart devices and phone apps alone may reach £150 billion in 2020, more than doubling its current value. For the UK, new research centres are set to be developed that will invest heavily in R&D and innovation and create thousands of jobs and leverage millions of private sector investment in R&D.
The report found the life sciences sector to be well placed to tackle longer term trends, like an ageing population and the fourth industrial revolution (4IR), driven by machine learning, AI, data analytics and networked communications. An ageing population brings significant opportunities for those working within the sector with the demand for new medicines and devices constantly increasing while a high-tech sector such as UK life sciences can be both a producer and adopter of new and innovative 4IR technology.