On 30 January 2024, Wes Streeting MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, and Peter Kyle MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, launched Labour’s new Life Sciences Strategy at Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst. The new plan seeks to reform and modernise the NHS as well as capture the economic potential in the life sciences sector, supporting one of Labour’s key missions for the UK to have the highest sustained growth in the G7.
What are the key actions in Labour’s life sciences plan?
Labour’s Industrial Strategy
Labour has promised to be a more reliable partner for the industry by establishing an independent Industrial Strategy Council that would be on a statutory footing to hold the Government to account and provide continuity across the political cycle.
Labour stated they would provide more support to the Office for Life Sciences so that it is ‘politically empowered to deliver across Government’ and include life science and innovation under the DHSC Secretary of State’s ministerial responsibilities.
Providing stability and certainty for innovation by taking a long-term approach to public R&D funding
Labour has pledged to create a more certain funding environment and streamline the funding process by introducing a system of ‘earned trust’, in place of ‘retrospective and repetitive reporting and audit by Government departments and UKRI.’
The Party have said they aim to increase the number of university spin-outs and re-structure the innovation funding system to ensure more of them can successfully scale up.
Harnessing data to improve services for patients and power cutting-edge medical research
Labour will want to create linked-up Secure Data Environments that provide safe and secure access to data to support researchers and developers across academia and industry.
The Party also confirmed that they would make better use of the NHS Federated Data Platform (FDP) by driving inter-operability between digital systems in the NHS and in social care from the bottom up. This includes making the NHS App a ‘one-stop shop’ for health information.
Increasing access to finance
Labour has promised to undertake a broader in-Government pensions review to assess the pensions landscape, looking across the whole eco-system at different types of pensions, corporate sponsors, asset managers and more. The Party would also enable greater consolidation across all pensions and retirement saving schemes.
The Party would empower the British Business Bank to have a more ambitious remit to help increase access to finance for the life sciences sector.
Improving the business environment
Labour declared they would maintain the current rates of R&D tax credits over the next parliament, while cracking down on fraudulent claims and those made in error.
The Party stated they would evaluate the impact of the R&D tax credit scheme on a sector-by-sector basis, starting with the Life Sciences Industry.
Modernising and unblocking the regulatory regime
Labour has pledged to create a Regulatory Innovation Office (RIO) to hold regulators accountable for driving innovation where appropriate and for the delays that are holding back innovation.
The new strategy will set clear priorities regarding the specific technologies and disease areas for which the UK should aim to be a frontier launch market.
Labour has also promised to establish regulatory diplomacy and build regulatory networks with regulators in other countries.
Planning reform to support the life sciences industry
Labour wants to bring laboratory clusters within the scope of the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Regime in England and create new National Development Management Policies.
The Party would also seek to address housing shortages that affect areas that host UK life sciences clusters to make it easier for skilled workers to move.
Labour wants to reform the Apprenticeships Levy into a ‘Growth and Skills Levy’ so that it can be used on a greater range of training courses so that more workers can gain new skills.
Labour would commit to long-term workforce planning across the NHS and social care. The Party has promised to review training and look at creating new types of health and care professionals that draw on a diverse set of skills.
Ensuring the NHS is supporting innovation to improve health outcomes
Labour has pledged to develop a comprehensive plan for the procurement, adoption and spread of new technologies so that innovators have a clearer route to get their products into the NHS. The Party has said it will create a better mechanism for accountability and will work with the NHS to define what this means in practice.
The Party also declared they would establish an approach to identify unnecessary bureaucracy and reduce it so that NHS Trust Drugs and Therapeutics Committees do not unnecessarily re-evaluate products that have already been shown to be clinically and cost-effective.
The new plan states that Labour would reform the incentives structure to drive innovation and give the NHS freedom to embrace new partnerships and new ways of working.
Labour would work with the CQC to ensure regulation involves speedy adoption of new technology and ensure better horizon scanning for emerging treatments.
The Party also promised to improve clinical trial delivery by speeding up recruitment, giving more people a chance to participate, and improving the diversity of the people who participate in clinical trials.
In the new plan, Labour pledged to view trade policy differently from the Conservatives by operating through a ‘genuine trade strategy’, with a deeper, more substantive and focused approach which is consistent across all of Government.
Labour wants to give the Board of Trade a proper purpose as an independent advisory agency, accountable to the Secretary of State and advising on the impacts of regulation on trade and horizon scanning for opportunities.
The Party also committed to ensuring reciprocal levels of IP protection in countries with which the UK trades while maintaining our continued support of the WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).
Labour would use bilateral and multilateral negotiations as an opportunity to remove redundant or duplicative requirements UK medicines face when accessing markets overseas and maximize opportunities presented by the UK’s high regulatory standards to minimise regulatory trade barriers.
How are stakeholders reacting to the new plan?
Labour’s new life sciences plan has been positively received by key industry leaders and charities:
- Richard Torbett, Chief Executive of the ABPI, said this plan will ‘help the UK to better compete on the global stage’ and is a reflection of ‘extensive and thoughtful engagement’ with stakeholders from the Labour Party.
- Paul Fisher, Head of Policy, Programmes and Compliance at BIVDA, said it is great that the new plan demonstrates ‘clear recognition that overregulation of products places on manufacturers and the focus of cross-government solutions’. He also stated that BIVDA would be keen to see the Department for Business and Trade involved.
- Sarah Woolnough, Chief Executive of The King’s Fund, described Labour’s new plan as an ‘ambitious and welcome vision’ as many of the proposals will help ‘cement the link between the life sciences industry and health and care services’.
- Michelle Mitchell OBE, Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK, said that on research funding, ‘Labour’s Plan contains a welcome commitment to longer-term funding arrangements for research institutions. This is very positive on the back of Horizon Europe association, delivered late last year by the government, and will give researchers the funding stability they need to deliver life-saving research. But funding stability alone is not enough, and we need to see that commitment translate into a meaningful increase in the contribution the Government makes to cancer research in the UK – where we lag far behind countries like the US.’
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