Ahead of UK election, life sciences trade group pushes politicians to boost local industry

As the U.K. braces for a potential government shake-up ahead of its general election next month, the country’s premier biopharma trade organization is throwing down the gauntlet.

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) is challenging all U.K. political parties to blueprint their plans to unlock the nation’s healthcare industry potential, according to a press release issued Monday.

ABPI laid out a series of objectives in its “Manifesto for Investment, Health and Growth,” which aims to deliver better health and equity for National Health Service (NHS) patients, boost access to new drugs through clinical trials, bring more manufacturing roles to the U.K. and create more highly skilled and well-paid jobs across the country.

The rewards for doubling down on pharma would be “considerable,” ABPI argued. By prioritizing healthcare and life sciences, the next government could drive a decrease in the total burden of disease in the country, generate billions of pounds and create tens of thousands of new jobs, according to ABPI.

The challenge comes after a period of uncertainty for the local biopharma industry. During the back half of 2023, drugmakers and the British government sparred over a rebate scheme that had previously capped the annual growth rate for branded medicines at 2%. The industry and government ultimately reached a new accord in November before retooling the deal once again in December.

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot also placed a spotlight on wider issues last February when he revealed that his company decided to build a $400 million drug ingredients facility in Dublin, rather than the U.K., thanks to punitive tax rates in the drugmaker’s home country.

Then, in March 2024, AZ announced plans to invest 650 million pounds sterling ($827 million) in the U.K., with much of the cash earmarked to improve manufacturing and R&D for vaccines at AZ’s Speke production site in Liverpool.

The first objective in ABPI’s manifesto focuses on strengthening development, regulation and adoption for new drugs and vaccines in the U.K. The group is urging politicians to help create a “joined-up life sciences ecosystem” equipped to deliver “rapid approvals” and wants to set a goal for the U.K. to have the highest level of public R&D investment among the Group of Seven (G7) nations.

ABPI is also calling for the U.K. to reverse its clinical trial decline, bolster study recruitment and create pathways between genetic testing, personalized medicine access and clinical trials.

Next, the trade organization wants the U.K.’s next government to work together as a partner with the industry to help drive drug and vaccine investment and to provide dedicated central funding to help combat antimicrobial resistance.

The last piece of ABPI’s manifesto involves leveraging the industry to drive broader economic growth in the U.K. The organization hopes to accomplish this by safeguarding intellectual property, removing trade barriers and incentivizing advanced medicines manufacturing and skills development.

So far, the U.K.’s incumbent Conservative and Unionist Party has already published its own manifesto responding to ABPI’s call to action, the trade organization said in a separate release Tuesday.

The Conservatives’ manifesto specifically pledges to remove bureaucratic obstacles that hinder the use of new drugs and streamline the cost-effectiveness assessments currently used by the NHS and England’s drug pricing watchdog NICE. The party has also suggested it could increase public spending on life sciences R&D to 22 billion pounds a year while maintaining R&D tax reliefs.

ABPI issued its challenge as the U.K. approaches a general election on July 4. Currently, according to polls, the Conservative Party—which has led the government for over a decade—looks poised to be toppled by the Opposition Labour Party.