UK life sciences deal a ‘major step forward’, says Oxford co-author

UK life sciences deal a ‘major step forward’, says Oxford co-author
The Innovation Building in Oxford, home of the BioEscalator and the Novo Nordisk Research Centre Oxford.

The UK government has launched its second Life Sciences Sector Deal, co-authored by Oxford’s Regius Professor of Medicine Sir John Bell.

The deal features £1.3 billion of investment from government and industry and aims to use leading-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) to detect disease and develop new treatments.

The UK’s business and health secretaries say the investment – which includes up to £79 million from government and around £1 billion from global biopharmaceuticals firm UCB – will ‘support healthcare innovation and back businesses to create high-paid, high-quality jobs’.

Professor Sir John Bell said: ‘This sector deal is another major step forward for the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy in the UK. It has been hugely enabled by government and will initiate new projects that will be a magnet for further investment.

‘Together, industry, charities, government and the NHS can tackle some of the major challenges to healthcare systems, including ageing and early diagnostics and, in doing so, can grow the economy and demonstrate what a modern industrial strategy looks like in action.’

As part of the sector deal, Professor Bell will lead a programme titled Accelerating Detection of Disease that will bring together the NHS, industry and leading charities including Cancer Research UK, the British Heart Foundation and Alzheimer’s Research UK. The programme aims to use AI to develop new diagnostic tools to detect deadly diseases before symptoms even appear. It will be the largest ever study of its kind, collecting a range of data from healthy volunteers over several years. 

The sector deal highlights a number of University and regional life sciences industry success stories, including:

  • Substantial investment in the sector deal from Oxford University spinout company Oxford BioMedica.
  • The ORION-4 trial of a new cholesterol-lowering drug – a partnership involving Oxford University’s Clinical Trial Service Unit and Epidemiological Studies Unit.
  • The opening, in September 2018, of pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk’s new Oxford University-based research centre aiming to discover innovative treatments for Type 2 diabetes.
  • The announcement of a new Vaccines Manufacturing Innovation Centre in Oxford, co-led by the University’s Jenner Institute.
  • The launch, with investment from Oxford Sciences Innovation, of Oxford Physics spinout company ONI, which aims to miniaturise Nobel prize-winning microscopy technology and which has created an additional 100 high-value jobs in Oxfordshire.
  • The opening of an Electron Bio-Imaging Centre at Diamond Light Source, Harwell Science and Innovation Campus.

Digital health in particular has been identified as a transformative technological area in which Oxfordshire has world-class strength. A government-commissioned science and innovation audit (SIA) on the county found that the digital health sector could be responsible for 33,000 new jobs in Oxfordshire by 2030. The SIA suggested that four of the region’s transformative technologies – autonomous vehicles, space and satellites, quantum computing and digital health – have the potential to add £180 billion GVA growth to the UK economy by 2030.

Business Secretary Greg Clark said: ‘From the first vaccine to the discovery of DNA, the UK has always been at the forefront of medical endeavour and healthcare innovations. That is why we are building on our unique strengths by placing life sciences at the centre of our modern industrial strategy, backed by the biggest increase in public research and development investment in UK history.

‘This is our modern industrial strategy in action as we work hand in hand with industry to ensure the UK remains the go-to destination for launching new businesses, new discoveries and treatments to benefit health around the world.’

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘I want the UK to have the most advanced health and care system on the planet. Technology and artificial intelligence have the potential to revolutionise healthcare by unlocking the next generation of treatments, diagnosing diseases before symptoms appear and helping patients take greater control of their own health.

‘Our world-leading plans to map 100,000 genomes is just one example of how innovation can deliver life-changing results for patients and we want to build on its success to provide patients with truly personalised care.’