The UK government is trying to placate a disaffected life sciences industry by investing in health data mining and increasing domestic manufacturing of vaccines and medicines.
Ministers on Friday are expected to unveil more than £150m of funding for the UK Biobank, a flagship project in genomics, to quadruple its research capacity to advance scientists and drugmakers’ understanding of human biology.
The biobank will build a new facility in Manchester to store its 16m samples and upgrade its IT infrastructure, according to officials.
Pharmaceutical executives have criticized the government for sharply increasing taxes on drug sales to the NHS, claiming it undermines its own vision of making the UK a world leader in life sciences.
Pascal Soriot, chief executive of AstraZeneca, said in February that pharma companies should not be forced to pay for the “explosion” of NHS costs, while US drug groups Eli Lilly and AbbVie pulled out of a pricing agreement with the NHS.
The announcement is part of a package of measures the government is expected to unveil on Friday to boost life sciences in Britain.
On Thursday, industry leaders will meet with the Chancellor, Minister of Science and Technology and Minister of Health to discuss plans for the sector.
Pharmaceutical companies including AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson are already working with the UK Biobank to gain access to genomic data. The government believes the new funding could unlock an additional £70m of investment from the private sector.
UK government officials have said that the UK is a “life sciences giant by any measure”, and the Minister for Science and Technology believes the government should “double up” that power.
They said: “Supporting the sector through financial investment, scaling up world-class talent and ensuring regulation is fit for purpose is a no-brainer that would yield significant benefits for the UK – for both economic growth and public health.”
The industry has also raised concerns about the decline in clinical trials being conducted in the NHS in the past five years, arguing that the UK is not making the most of the single health system that would facilitate research.
Last month, Emma Walmsley, chief executive of GSK, asked Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to increase the industry’s access to anonymized NHS patient data.
The government will unveil new measures designed to make it easier for drug companies to run trials in the NHS this week, according to a person familiar with the plans.
On Friday, the UK is also expected to announce a £38m capital fund to stimulate investment in biomanufacturing to improve the country’s ability to respond to future health emergencies.
It is also working to increase funding for a program to invest in the latest vaccine and drug technologies, and to enhance skills needed for advanced manufacturing.
The announcement comes after the UK sold its main vaccine manufacturing center near Oxford to contract manufacturer Catalent last year.