E-scooters at a crossroads
E-scooters at a crossroads

A life sciences package the Government hopes will take the sting out of VPAS

Words by:
Associate Director
May 26, 2023

Today’s comprehensive life sciences package is a vote of confidence in a sector whose consistent real terms growth over the last decade is something the Government is keen to sustain. 

And it’s hardly a surprise – negotiations on the Voluntary Scheme for Branded Medicines Pricing and Access (VPAS) began just three weeks ago, following months of comment in the media about the rebate disincentivising research, and about the NHS needing to ensure value for money at a time of significant resource stretch.  

But are today’s measures sufficient, or are they just tokens to soften the difficult conversations around VPAS and medicines access? They include: 

  • £650 million (including both previously announced and genuinely new) funding targeted towards manufacturing, skills and infrastructure: 
    • £121 million to improve commercial clinical trials as part of the Government’s response to the Lord O’Shaughnessy Review. This includes through reducing trial approval time, developing a new approach to contracting, providing real-time’ data on clinical trial activity, and creating new clinical trial acceleration networks (CTANs) 
    • £154 million to upgrade the UK’s biological data bank 
    • Up to £38 million for a Biomanufacturing Fund 
    • £10 million new funding to bolster UK health resilience 
    • £42.7 million for a new centre in Liverpool to research the connections between mental, physical and social conditions 
  • Relaunching the Academic Health Science Networks as Health Innovation Networks with a focus on boosting innovation by sharing best practice between the NHS, academia, industry and local communities 
  • £10 million for the MHRA to establish new regulatory recognition routes using approvals from Australia, Canada, the EU, Japan, Switzerland, Singapore and the USA  
  • An Innovative Devices Access Pathway to support med-tech innovators to generate the evidence they need for regulatory approval 

Announcements have been cautiously welcomed as a means to deliver the UK’s ambition to be a science superpower. But Lord O’Shaughnessy himself has said that the proof of the pudding will be in the eating: rapid implementation will be key to driving maximum impact.  

And while these measures will help to address sector concerns about system delays and limitations to research routes, VPAS is still the big priority. These announcements won’t shift that focus. As the ABPI said in their quote for the Government’s press release: “Improving research is only one part of the equation. To get innovative medicines to patients and fully capture the growth opportunity, we must also fix the commercial environment”. 

Many of today’s announcements are also not new. The regulatory recognition routes were announced in the Spring Budget, as was a plan to expedite approvals of clinical trials. CTANs had been leaked to the media some weeks ago as ‘clinical trial pop-ups’. Reiterating these measures as part of a wider package of life sciences policies is designed not only to butter up the industry but also to position the Conservatives as the party of science and innovation with voters as eyes start to turn to next year’s election. 

How successful these measures will be in making the UK a life sciences superpower, and overcoming the system and regulatory barriers to investment, remains to be seen. But with Sir Keir Starmer stating in his speech to launch Labour’s health mission this week that “science and technology are game changers”, the Government can be sure that they won’t be the only ones trying to woo the life sciences sector. 

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