Life sciences warning over failing UK performance

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) has warned the UK’s life science industry is struggling to keep up with its rivals and warns that urgent investment is needed if the industry is to make any sort of recovery.

The government has issued its annual Life Sciences Competitiveness Indicators (LSCI) report shows that UK exports and imports of pharmaceutical products in 2020 were valued at $25.9 billion and $26.8 billion respectively. These values were notably lower than the majority of comparator countries, with the UK ranking ninth for exports and tenth for imports.

The value of both exports and imports for pharmaceutical products has also seen a decline year on year since 2016 and 2015, respectively, in contrast with a general upward trend seen in most comparator countries

ABPI CEO Richard Torbett said:  “Today’s data ought to ring alarm bells across Government.

“While we’ve got great strengths and enormous potential to grow life sciences in this country, we are falling behind our global competitors when it comes to crucial areas like the use of diagnostics, patient uptake of new medicines, recruitment to clinical trials and pharmaceutical exports.

“It is critical that under a new Prime Minister, Ministers across Government take an urgent look at how to reverse these trends and ensure that the Life Sciences sector is in a position to drive the UK’s economic recovery”.

The LSCIs highlighted:

  • 68% and 54% of new medicines approved by the EMA were made available to patients between 2017 and 2020 in England and Scotland, respectively. Several European comparator countries, such as Germany, Italy and Austria made a higher percentage of new medicines available to patients than both England and Scotland. As a result, England and Scotland ranked sixth and tenth respectively for medicines that received marketing authorisation between 2017 and 2020.
  • Similarly, a handful of comparator countries had a shorter time than both England and Scotland for availability of medicines to patients following marketing authorisation. The median length of time was 296 days in England and 384 days in Scotland, ranking them sixth and ninth, respectively, among comparator countries.
  • The UK’s uptake ratio is a measure of uptake relative to the uptake of other comparator countries, adjusted for population. This is not adjusted for other factors such as disease prevalence or HTA recommended usage. For medicines launched between 2016-2020:
  • the UK’s uptake ratio of new medicines relative to comparator countries was 0.58 1 year after launch. This is broadly similar to medicines launched in 2015-2019.
  • 5 years after launch this rose to 0.81 but this is based on a small cohort of medicines. This compares to 0.60 for medicines launched in 2015-2019.

“The UK’s uptake ratio has been consistently below 1 for all launch cohorts since 2014, which means the UK has a lower adoption of new medicines in comparison to the average of comparator countries,” it added. “The UK has a substantially lower number of MRI units, CT and PET scanners than most comparators with 16.5 scanners per million population and 174.5 scans performed per million population.”

In 2020, the UK’s global share of clinical trial recruitment was 3% – this figure has not varied much between 2012-2020, averaging at 3% each year.

In contrast, Spain’s global share has increased from 2.6% to 4.2%

In 2020, the UK’s median time between regulatory approval for and the first patient receiving a first dose was 247 days (ranks 7th) – this figure has increased by 25 days since 2018. For comparison, Spain has a median of 197 days and ranks joint 3rd

“The LSCIs present a view into the UK’s research and development (R&D) expenditure showing that the UK government’s budget for health research and development (R&D) was £2.7 billion in 2020, accounting for 0.12% of GDP, behind only the USA and Japan. Industry also performed over £5bn of pharmaceutical R&D in 2020,” according to the report. “The embrace of innovation is fundamental to the long-term sustainability of the NHS and to delivering better outcomes for patients now, and in future.”