After building expectations, the UK’s life sciences plan falls short of the hype

Merck’s recent announcement of a new research center in London likely whetted the UK life sciences sector’s appetite for even bigger news from the government’s new industry plan, out today. But despite a considerable amount of loyal cheering about post-Brexit preparations, it doesn’t amount to nearly enough to tip the economic scales in biopharma’s favor.

And to be fair, what kind of official economic development plan, salted with corporate projects, can do that, anyway?

After hearing some heated rumors of a major fund coming in on a billion-dollar biotech startup plan, the government’s outline includes a commitment from Apple Tree Partners to launch a new company. Good news from an active firm with $1.6 billion under management, but not earth shaking. There is a round of commitments from the big local players — GSK and AstraZeneca — to back the local players. GSK has also come up with a £40 million commitment to expand sequencing plans at the UK Biobank from the 50,000 announced earlier in the year to 500,000.

That won’t hurt.

Pascal Soriot

AstraZeneca is already doing its bit with a major investment in a new research center and headquarters in Cambridge, announced soon after Pascal Soriot took the helm. And the UK government happily threw that into the pot, without mentioning how far behind schedule it is, along with every other upbeat announcement made in the field in the last few years.

J&J and Oxford will collaborate on new clinical trial platform models, looking to simultaneously study various neuroscience drugs. That’s intriguing, possibly pointing to development models that may well attract various biopharma companies looking for a more efficient way to study high-risk programs. I’ll be curious to see how that may influence similar efforts around the world.

But the government plan — which includes added financial support from taxpayers — falls short of the high expectations created in recent weeks. State, federal and local plans in the US often start with the same hoopla, and also prefer to claim every shred of positive news as evidence of its certain success while leaving out any hard realities.

It’s tax policies and regulatory responsiveness, though, that lay the groundwork for life sciences growth — the rest is up to the companies and the entrepreneurs.

The UK has a lot going for it, with two major pharma companies, a world-class scientific community based in stellar institutions and a small but enthusiastic biotech group still in need of more financial support from private investors skilled at company creation and talent building.

They’ll all be getting some additional help, but all the hard work remains. So actually not much has changed.

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Research Scientist - Immunology
Recursion Pharmaceuticals Salt Lake City, UT
Director of Operations
Atlas Venture Cambridge, MA

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