Labour’s Life Sciences Strategy – more of the same?

a small collection of pills

Labour’s Life Sciences Strategy – more of the same?

a small collection of pills

Whilst the date of the General Election is yet to be announced, both the Conservative and Labour Parties have started 2024 in full campaign mode. Long accused of having no real policies, the latest offering from Labour – a Life Sciences Sector Strategy announced today at an industry roundtable at the Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst – attempts to debunk that narrative.

Some of the specifics include:

  • Unleashing an extra £10bn per year for pharmaceutical research and development;
  • Providing greater support for innovation, including supporting spinouts to scale up via a designated ‘Founders Track’;
  • Developing an innovation and adoption strategy for England, working with industry, patients and ICSs;
  • Introducing measures to make it easier to conduct and recruit clinical trials, and;
  • Making the NHS app a one-stop shop for health information.

Clearly part of Labour’s ongoing charm offensive with industry, these commitments will be welcomed by life science companies and the wider sector. In fact, the plan is accompanied by a press release with numerous supportive quotes from the great and the good.

However, there is also a sense of caution among industry with many of the quotes adopting a somewhat muted tone. Given Labour’s position in the polls, it is of course promising to see them recognising the sector’s value and yet, the plan reads like many before it. In fact, its near impossible to distinguish it from its Conservative predecessors – published in 2017 (Life Sciences Industrial Strategy and Sector Deal), 2018 (Life Sciences Sector Deal 2) and 2021 (Life Sciences Vision) – and in many parts, the plan proudly commits to keep existing Government policies.

For example, Labour’s plan commits to:

  • Strengthening existing Government mechanisms for supporting the sector, including the Life Sciences Council, Office for Life Sciences and ministerial leadership via the Departments of Health and Social Care and Science, Innovation and Technology;
  • Delivering work already underway to create linked Secure Data Environments;
  • Maintaining the current framework for R&D tax credits, the Patent Box, the Enterprise Investment Scheme and Venture Capital Trusts, and;
  • Developing an adoption strategy that aligns with the existing Life Sciences Vision.

Just this morning, whilst the Government are out and about promoting the latest update to poster-child health tech initiative, the NHS app, Labour are also shouting its praises in their attempt to demonstrate why they would do a better of job of looking after the nation’s health.

And therein lies the problem. Industry wants to know how they can be sure it will be different this time. Will Labour deliver on their promises, or is it just more warm words?

At the moment there is little to indicate that Labour will deliver. Determined to demonstrate Labour can be trusted with the economy, the Shadow Chancellor, Rachel Reeves, has a tight grip on the purse strings and Shadow Health Secretary, Wes Streeting, has made it clear he doesn’t think extra funding for the NHS is the answer, despite the growing backlogs and workforce challenges. Streeting has also done little to secure favour with the BMA and junior doctors so it is unlikely he will provide a quick resolution to the strikes that are exacerbating the NHS’s challenges.

It also highly unlikely Labour will revisit the Voluntary Pricing Scheme for Access and Growth (VPAG), agreed with the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) just last month. Given its 5-year term, the scheme will be in place through most, if not all, of the next parliament, and, much like its predecessor, looks set to be a thorn in the side of beleaguered pharmaceutical GMs trying to make the case for the UK’s competitiveness in global boardrooms.

For now, the Labour Party will have to continue wooing industry and making their case from the side-lines, trying to persuade the life sciences sector – and NHS patients – that things would be different if only they were in power. Later this year they will likely have the chance to put their money where their mouth is, but from what we’ve heard so far, there won’t be much of it spare.