Claus Andersen, partner the Life Sciences group at Freeths Solicitors takes a look…
Although it is hard to think of any positives to come from Covid-19, the one that I consider most important to come from the pandemic is the increased focus on the UK Life Sciences sector, and its importance in relation to supporting treatments and vaccines, and its importance for the UK economy and prosperity.
The Life Sciences sector delivered some notable successes in terms of the vaccines and other treatments of Covid-19 during the otherwise bleak first waves of the Covid-19 pandemic from March 2020. Especially, for Oxford the rapid development of the successful AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine has been a shining example of research, development and innovation along with co-operation between a private company such as AstraZeneca and an institution as such as Oxford University.
However, it must be noted that the Life Sciences sector was already expanding before the Covid-19 pandemic and was already one of the most important sectors to the British economy. For this reason the government devoted special attention to the sector for many years.
Professor Sir John Bell prepared a report to the government in August 2017 called “Life Sciences Industrial Strategy” with a number of recommendations, and this report was followed up in July 2021 with a government paper called Life Sciences Vision. Figures from 2019 showed that the UK Life Sciences industry had a turnover of £80.7 bn and employed 256,100 people. The triangle between London, Oxford and Cambridge is by far the biggest European Life Sciences cluster in Europe, and the triangle has kept this position after Brexit.
“The triangle between London, Oxford and Cambridge is by far the biggest Life Sciences cluster in Europe”
Because of the growth and importance of the sector, it has received significant investment in recent years, including during the hights of the first waves of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the sector has regularly outperformed other sectors. For example, Life Sciences companies on the London stock markets delivered fantastic returns in 2020 and have attracted new investors according to a recent analysis by the UK BioIndustry Association (BIA) and Radnor Capital Partners.
So, in a period of significant success, it would seem prudent to pause for a moment and consider how the UK Life Sciences sector can continue its growth and retain its position as leading on a global scale…
This is important to consider, because it is not just in the UK, that the Life Sciences sector has received plenty of positive attention. Throughout Europe Life Sciences clusters are being created, and existing clusters are growing. Similar developments are now also taking place in North America and Asia. Therefore, to preserve its leading position, the UK must ensure that the conditions for the sector remains competitive, so that the sector can continue to develop and innovate.
Like many other sectors, the Life Sciences sector faces the challenge of fierce competition for talent.
Life Sciences companies are for obvious reasons very knowledge intensive and employing the right people could mean the difference between a successful product development or failure. The UK immigration rules have changed significantly as a consequence of Brexit. Especially, in relation to staff coming from the EU the change has been dramatic. We have gone from a situation, where EU scientists could with only limited paperwork enter the UK and become employed to a situation, where that process is now more complicated. This takes time and costs money for the employer and could, if not managed accordingly, potentially put UK companies at a competitive disadvantage compared to European employers. Therefore, companies in the Life Sciences sector must be prepared to deal with their recruitment as a potential risk and should put in place plans to deal with this so they can attract the right staff.
Another reason for the success of UK Life Sciences is the protection of IP in the UK.
Many Life Sciences companies are highly reliant on IP. Therefore, planning and managing your IP portfolio is necessary not only for the running of the business, but also to protect the foundation of the business and to develop further revenue streams for the business by way of licensing of IP. Licensing could be used for IP, which is not core to the business or which the business may not have the capacity or resource to use commercially. Therefore, careful IP portfolio management will be an increasingly important feature of any Life Sciences company in the future.
A third challenge is “regulatory compliance”.
A feature of the Life Sciences sector is the strict compliance, the companies are subject to. This relates to the products the sector sells, but also increasingly in relation to the personal data it obtains. One of the arguments, which have been levelled against the sector from some quarters of society, is the mistrust as to whether any corners are being cut in the development and production of medicine. Companies in the sector will need to live up to the highest standards of regulatory compliance in relation to not only their products but also the personal data the companies may receive. Both these aspects will also be under heavy scrutiny from potential investors.
So, an answer to the question, “What’s on the horizon for Life Sciences in the UK?” …is there will be plenty of opportunities, but in order to still be able to enjoy the opportunities, the sector must continue the hard work.”
Claus Andersen is a partner in our Life Sciences group. He specialises in all aspects of corporate and commercial work with a particular focus on mergers and acquisitions, shareholder agreements, joint ventures, licencing agreements and regulatory advice to companies and businesses in the Life Sciences and technology sector.
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