UAE-UK health pact 'boosts exports of life sciences innovation'

Investment trend is here to stay but UK must act fast to compete against global players, analysts say

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government set out its 10-year UK Life Sciences Vision in July to build on the success of Britain's Covid-19 response. Getty
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The UAE-UK partnership on life sciences investment is a sign of Britain’s commitment to maximise the export potential of the talent and innovation contained within the sector, according to analysts.

Rodney Appiah, chairman of Cornerstone Partners, a UK angel network focused on seed-stage investments backing exceptional black and diverse founders, said "north of $100 billion" has been invested into venture capital in 2021.

The money has been specifically for life sciences and health care, with about $5 billion to $8bn of that pumped into Britain.

“It is not just the private sector” as the UK government has “taken a stance” in the life sciences field through the launch of its Strategic Investment Partnership with the UAE, Mr Appiah said.

“They launched their UK Life Sciences programme in March, in conjunction with the UAE, which committed £800 million,” Mr Appiah said.

The deal, worth more than £1bn in total, included a £200m fund pledge from the UK’s Life Sciences Investment Programme.

“There is a real commitment to really maximise on innovation that is clearly evident within the Golden Triangle – within London, Oxford and Cambridge, to see this as an important export in terms of talent and innovation for the UK as a whole,” said Mr Appiah.

The expansion of the Strategic Investment Partnership with the UAE came in September when Mubadala Investment Company committed a further £9bn to Britain’s technology, infrastructure and energy transition, in addition to the £800 million already pledged to the life sciences sector in March.

In July, the government set out its 10-year UK Life Sciences Vision to build on the success of the country’s Covid-19 response and hasten the delivery of innovative treatment to patients.

The strategy aims to solve some of the biggest healthcare problems the UK currently faces, such as cancer and dementia, with the government offering the country’s “most promising life sciences companies” access to the £1bn in funding available through the Life Sciences Investment Programme.

The country is “indebted to the ingenuity of UK life sciences and its pioneers, with the discovery of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and the seamless collaboration between our scientists, industry, regulators and NHS saving millions of lives during the pandemic”, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said at the time of the launch.

“That is why we are setting out our new Life Sciences Vision to bottle the formula we have developed to tackle Covid and improve health outcomes for patients across the board in the UK, and secure jobs and investment in the process as we build back better.”

While Britain’s life sciences industry, which generates £80bn in sales a year and employs more than 250,000 people, is recognised globally for its exemplary research and education strengths, analysts say the country must move fast if it wants to compete with other leading players around the world.

Dr Richard Torbett, chief executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, said he welcomed the life sciences strategy as it sets how that sector can be expanded across every part of the UK through the levelling up agenda.

However, he issued a warning that the vision must be delivered “at pace” to ensure the UK stays ahead of other players in the market.

Visions and strategies can only take us so far. What we now need to do is implement it at pace ...
Dr Richard Torbett, Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry

“Visions and strategies can only take us so far. What we now need to do is implement it at pace because we are not the only country in the world that has what is a commercial or an economic opportunity with the life science sector,” he said.

“There is huge international competition for that investment. So, we need to move really quickly and really, with a lot, a lot of pace to really make sure we do the right thing now.”

Mr Appiah said the investment in life sciences is “a trend that is not going to go away” as healthcare demand continues to rise.

Biotech is number one in terms of attracting investment because of the “notion of leveraging the intersection of both life sciences and technology to help improve diagnostic of diseases”, he said.

"What is really interesting about Covid is that it has really brought to everyone's attention the fragility of human life, and our dependence on robust, scalable healthcare systems and the response from the healthcare sector to be able to meet that immense challenge in terms of developing vaccines has been incredible," he said.

As the world faces an increasingly ageing population, "health care has a really critical role to play,” he said.

“The requirement for increasing home care ... the notion of delivering health care to patients in a more diagnostic fashion, and reducing that sort of face-to-face interaction by using technology – all of these are significant challenges to try to move towards more of a diagnostic, technology driven environment where health care is at the core of that is really exciting," he said. "And venture capital has an important part to play in that.”

Updated: December 03, 2021, 1:36 PM