The UK: The G7’s Hottest Life Science Investment Destination?


With Brexit now confirmed, the UK government has been playing up the country’s scientific credentials. The aim is to cement the UK’s position as one of the world’s top life science investment destinations and multinational pharma firms including Novartis are already taking note.


“Tangible Opportunity”

In February 2020, the UK’s Department for International Trade (UKDIT) published ‘Choose UK Life Sciences,’  a 15-page document that talks up the UK’s life sciences sector to potential international investors.

The UK is a leading global hub for life sciences, providing tangible opportunity for inward investors to make business connections and engage in collaborations to enable commercial success

UKDIT, ‘Choose UK Life Sciences’

The document highlights how the British National Health Service (NHS) – the largest integrated health system in the world – reaches the whole of the UK population and offers unparalleled opportunities in terms of cradle-to-grave data and clinical insights.

It also points to the UK’s talent as a key point of differentiation. The country is home to four of the world’s top ten universities for clinical and health sciences, and two of the top three for life sciences.

Moreover, the UK’s scientific clusters are highly integrated – connecting investors with customers, collaborators, supply chains, and innovation partners – and several British firms are at the cutting edge of fields such as AI, data-driven technology and digital health; advanced therapies; clinical research; discovery science; genomics; medicines manufacturing; and medical and health technologies.

“The UK is a leading global hub for life sciences, providing tangible opportunity for inward investors to make business connections and engage in collaborations to enable commercial success,” the document states.

In terms of numbers, the UK has over 5,800 life science companies, over 248,000 people employed in life sciences, is first for life sciences research in the G7 by citation impact, and has pledged GBP 80 billion in R&D funding over the next ten years. Over 11,000 people are employed in AI and digital health in the UK, and the NHS serves 65 million people.

However, with the full impact of the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic still unknown, whether the UK can retain its attractiveness as an investment destination in the coming years is more uncertain than ever before.


Novartis: London Calling

Also in February, Swiss giant Novartis opened its new UK headquarters in London; relocating over 600 staff to The WestWorks at White City Place, close to several other life sciences companies as well as Imperial College London’s White City Campus.

Novartis is already the largest single sponsor of clinical trials in the UK and in January 2020 inked a deal with the UK government to run a ‘world-first’ population-level clinical trial for its new heart drug inclisaran, which global CEO Vas Narasimhan has said could potentially become a treatment akin to a vaccine for heart disease and “has the potential to be one of the largest, if not the largest, medicine at Novartis in our history.”

[The UK is] one of the most important places on the planet for innovation

Vas Narasimhan, CEO, Novartis

Key figures from Novartis UK and global, as well as representatives of academia and the British government were keen to play up the significance of the move to White City and the synergies that can potentially be leveraged from it.

Narasimhan, speaking at the launch, noted that “This is a historic day for Novartis in the UK. It is the moment we will all remember as the start of the next chapter on our journey to be a leader in providing world-class medicines to the UK population… [The UK is] one of the most important places on the planet for innovation.”

Haseeb Ahmad, MD of UK, Ireland and Nordics for Novartis Pharmaceuticals and country president of Novartis UK, added that “The UK life sciences sector is at a crossroads, with many opportunities available for cutting-edge innovation and partnerships. White City is fast becoming one of the UK’s most exciting new hubs for life sciences and puts us in the perfect position to continue working with our partners to find new ways to innovate and collaborate to build a healthier tomorrow.”

The UK Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock MP said he was “excited” about the developments at White City and its emerging ecosystem, and underlined the importance of a “holy trinity” of “private enterprise, academic research, and the effective and empowering role of Government”. He added: “We are all on a collective endeavour – a common mission to improve people’s lives right across the planet.”

Imperial President Alice Gast stated, “What we set out to do at White City is all about synergy – of having strong corporate, international and academic partners, having our doors open to these partners, and having the ability to collaborate freely in close proximity… We already collaborate significantly with Novartis UK and I look forward to welcoming the Novartis team to joins us in new modes of fruitful collaboration…I believe it will be unique in the world.”

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