A few comments from the science community on the role of the UK as a ‘science superpower’ in case useful.
Claire Brading, Managing Director, UCB UK & Ireland, said:
“Sir, UCB is a top 3 investor in biopharmaceutical research and development in the UK, conducting hundreds of clinical trials here. We have experienced first-hand the significant challenges in setting up and recruiting patients to our trials, which has resulted in a slower progress to getting important medicines to patients. Indeed, the UK has fallen from 5th to 7th in the world for Phase 3 clinical trials since 2017.
“Just 68% of medicines approved by the European Medicines Agency were made available in England between 2017 – 2020. It is imperative that the UK has equitable access to new innovations and doesn’t become a country which is undesirable for first-to-market medicines. We are committed to being part of the UK’s ambition to be a science superpower, but we can’t do this alone. There needs to be commitment and leadership from our Government to work through bureaucratic obstacles and set the UK on course to be world leading.”
Dr Adrian J. Ivinson, Professor Bart De Strooper, UK Dementia Research Institute, said:
“William Hague’s challenge to the next PM to make good on the promise that Britain can and should be a science superpower is fundamental. So, what is stopping us from achieving the dream? Three things: You can’t be a science superpower without super funding. At the moment we are leaving good ideas on the table, untested simply because we don’t have the funds to pursue them. Second, we must free our researchers from red tape and let them get on with it. Accountability and KPIs have their place but at the moment there is a real risk that the reporting tail is wagging the science dog. And third, we must dedicate the UK’s scientific talent to solving the most pressing global challenges. Of these, dementia is one of the greatest, and it’s growing at an alarming rate. The UK has the potential to solve it – but only if our next PM delivers on the superpower pledge.”
Professor Sir Robert Lechler, former President of the Academy of Medical Science, said:
“William Hague provides an excellent and well-timed call to arms for a “whole system” approach to investment in science. An ambitious and well-coordinated plan to invest in all aspects of the science landscape is vital to delivering on the UK’s enormous potential for economic growth.
“In my area of expertise – the life sciences – there has never been a more exciting time for Government to engage. Huge advances in our understanding of disease are being made on a daily basis, and new modalities of treatment – including cell and gene therapy – are showing their potential to revolutionise outcomes in previously intractable conditions. Likewise, the power of data science and AI to detect disease early, and to personalise treatment, will revolutionise health over the next few years.
“The UK already has the first component needed to be a genuine science superpower – the world-class fundamental and translational research that underpins all progress. Capitalising on this in the life sciences sector requires several conditions to be met. First, government must follow through on its commitment to reaching 2.4% GDP being spent on research. Second, the NHS must make research a priority despite all the imminent pressures. Third, closer partnerships with a range of industries through truly integrated life sciences clusters need to be nurtured (the value of physical proximity cannot be overestimated). Fourth, access to patient (long term) capital and investment in large-scale manufacturing will help to retain UK start-up companies in this country. Fifth, we need to extract two of the few tangible benefits of Brexit in the form of an agility dividend by streamlining regulation to make the UK the go to place for early phase trials – a major attractor for life science companies – and by evolving immigration policies that ensure that the UK is a magnet for talent from across the world.
“The Covid pandemic has exposed our poor underlying population health and gross health inequalities. Much of this derives from poverty and deprivation. Delivering on the ambition to be a science superpower will not only directly benefit health, but by driving economic growth, will also help to reduce inequality.”
Daniel Rathbone, Assistant Director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, said:
“William Hague is absolutely right. The next PM needs to double down on research, development and innovation. We are at a tipping point – CaSE analysis has shown that the UK’s targets are amongst the least ambitious in the G7. We’ve seen big investments promised in the last year, now is the time for the Government to go further and deliver. Strong public investment and sticking to long-term plans gives business the confidence they need to bring their global R&D investment – which could go anywhere – to the UK. Coupled with a reset in EU relations, to enable the UK to associate to Horizon Europe, the new PM has the opportunity to show that science is at the heart of the UK’s future.”
Clio Heslop, Head of Policy, Partnerships & Impact, British Science Association, said:
“Britain cannot be a “science superpower” if parts of society are not readily welcomed to contribute to science and innovation. In his column today (2 August), William Hague asserts that the incoming PM must “act quickly”, but speed will not be enough to guarantee success.
“There is significant evidence that shows that structural barriers exist from science education through to research and industry. For example, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Diversity & Inclusion in Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths has reported that the science sector excludes marginalised groups including Black people, women, disabled people, and people from LGBTQ+ communities.
“Similar to the Government’s wider ‘Levelling-up’ ambitions, any science superpower strategy needs to address inequity of access to science, so that areas of the UK beyond traditional innovation and science hubs can benefit and contribute.
“We strongly urge the Government to use the recommendations from the House of Commons Science & Technology Committee’s current diversity inquiry, to ensure the UK’s next phase of R&D benefits from the full potential of our population.
“The British Science Association believes that combatting structural inequity will improve growth, create sustainable economic prosperity and offer opportunities for future generations to lead our superpower status.”
Dr Martin Turner, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at the BioIndustry Association, said:
“William Hague’s call on the next Prime Minister to give science and technology a place at the Cabinet table is absolutely right. We need leadership from the top to harness our competitive strength in science.
“The past few years we have seen a boom in life science start-ups in the UK, with the sector benefitting from record levels of private investment. But, as Mr Hague notes, not everything is in place for us to claim to be a science superpower, yet. Clinical trials, for instance, need focus. The next government must ensure the Conservative’s past success with modern industrial strategy for life sciences, which has enabled the UK to respond to the pandemic so effectively and driven the sector forward at pace in areas such as genomics, cell and gene therapies and mRNA, is not squandered.
“The incoming Prime Minister must give confidence to investors and companies that it will continue to champion the UK life sciences sector to ensure it continues to thrive and can deliver as the jewel in the crown of the UK’s future innovation-based economy, delivering benefit to both patients and the UK taxpayer.”
The nature of this story means everyone quoted above could be perceived to have a stake in it. As such, our policy is not to ask for interests to be declared – instead, they are implicit in each person’s affiliation.