24 May 2022

Science is thriving in UK regions: Government must back them

A report published jointly by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), Birmingham Health Partners (BHP) and the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), demands that government, academia, and industry leaders work together to support and develop regional life science ecosystems.

In the West Midlands, the picture is one of huge potential, with the opportunity to be on par with the UK’s Golden Triangle of Cambridge, London and Oxford, and innovations clusters in the US. However, a concerted effort is needed to tackle the region’s challenges if it is to realise its potential.

The authors point to existing areas of business innovation, global leadership and BHP’s unique ecosystem that enables the full spectrum of translational medicine, encompassing health data, an established local health system, academic excellence and an extensive clinical trials capability- including:

  • The West Midlands has an unrivalled breadth and depth of researchers in the field of women’s health. Their work is putting Birmingham Women’s Hospital at the forefront of innovation in maternal and women’s health, allowing the development and testing of new therapies and interventions that are transforming the lives of women not only in Birmingham but across the world.
  • The University of Birmingham’s Cancer Research UK Clinical Trials Unit (CRCTU) is a global leader in paediatric cancer and clinical trials, for example, working with pharma company Bayer, to deliver new research into treatments for a rare type of childhood cancer.
  • University Hospitals Birmingham is an NHS Global Digital Exemplar, working closely with Health Data Research UK and biomedical and health informatics researchers to improve care pathways, redesign service provision and develop and test new treatments.
  • The region is also developing the Birmingham Health Innovation Campus, to leverage the existing integrated BHP ecosystem and drive innovation, improved health outcomes and economic growth. For example, the Precision Healthcare Technologies Accelerator (PHTA), part of the innovation campus, is a unique centre addressing translational medicine needs in devices, diagnostics and therapeutics.

The region punches above its weight despite research showing that level of R&D investment per head in the West Midlands lags behind other areas of the UK, with the average West Midlands resident only receiving £20 per head in government funding.

Despite this disparity in funding from central government, the sector employs over 10,000 people, and is a significant driver of economic growth in the region. However, over a 10-year period, the West Midlands was the only English region which did not see a net increase in employment in the life sciences industry.

The report sets out recommendations based on five core themes, each with opportunities and systematic barriers. If these recommendations are implemented in full, the region could play a significant role in delivering the government’s Life Sciences Vision of making UK a leading global hub for life sciences.

“We have a proud industrial heritage here in the West Midlands, and now we have the opportunity to be at the forefront of the life sciences industry,” commented West Midlands mayor Andy Street. “Our region has the capabilities to build a thriving life sciences ecosystem, and we already have some of the best institutions in the country with more on the way. These are the foundations to build on, but we know we need the support from policy makers and decision takers to do more.”