Foreign investment in UK life sciences plunges

Britain drops from second to ninth place in comparative ranking of countries

Life sciences have been one of the key industries in the UK's push to boost economic growth. Reuters
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Foreign direct investment into the UK's life sciences sector dropped to £1 billion in 2022, from £1.9 billion in the previous year, according to official figures.

The Life Sciences Competitiveness Indicators report shows that the UK dropped to ninth place, from second, in a comparative ranking of countries and the foreign investment into their life science industries.

The US also registered a significant drop in life sciences FDI between 2021 and 2022, but retained the top slot.

Ireland's life sciences FDI doubled in the period, taking the country into second place in the rankings.

The life sciences sector has been one of the key industries in the UK government's quest to boost economic growth and enable the country to become a “science superpower”.

The sector generated £94 billion ($118 billion) in 2021 and employs more than 280,000 people.

While noting the slide of the UK down the life sciences investment rankings, George Freeman, Minister of Science, Innovation and Technology, said: “Our newly announced biomanufacturing fund, which we hope will unlock further manufacturing investment in the UK, demonstrates that we are not complacent.”

Bitter tax pills

However, companies in the life sciences field and drug manufacturers claim the UK's tax environment is increasing unfriendly for international investors.

Back in February, AstraZeneca announced it would be investing £274 million ($360 million) into manufacturing centres in Ireland, rather than the UK.

A few months later, US drugs company Ely Lilly said it was suspending a potential investment in Britain because of what it termed a “stifling commercial environment”.

Much of the tension between the government and the pharmaceutical makers arises from the Voluntary Scheme for Branded Medicines Pricing and Access, which is aimed at limiting the drugs bill for the National Health Service, but in effect acts as a sales levy.

Also, clawback rates that pharmaceutical manufacturers have to pay on their UK revenue have risen significantly – to 26.5 per cent this year, from 15 per cent in 2022.

“When international markets turn away from you, it can be tough to turn things around,” said Richard Torbett, chief executive at the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry.

“The industry has repeatedly warned that unless the UK addresses the excessive and internationally uncompetitive rebate rates, it cannot expect companies and investors to base themselves here.

“The UK continues to have all the hallmarks of a global life science leader, and ministers are right to single out the industry’s potential to drive UK economic growth, but talk can only get you so far.

“We need to fix the commercial environment and make the UK a genuinely attractive investment prospect.”

A Global Date survey released on Friday found overall investment funding for UK-based start-ups has plunged year on year. A total of 706 venture capital funding deals worth $7.2 billion were announced in the United Kingdom during the first half of 2023. There were 989 funding deals for UK-based operations during the same period in 2022 and the corresponding investment value stood at $15.9 billion.

Updated: July 14, 2023, 9:26 AM