The U.K. government wants to strike a deal to boost the productivity of the life science sector. Officials have called on business and academia to team up and pitch proposals for how the increasingly interventionist government can fix the problems they face.
Work on drafting such proposals is already underway. Prime Minister Theresa May and colleagues, including former life sciences minister George Freeman, only publicly signaled the government's willingness to pen deals this week when they published their industrial strategy. But with the life science sector having organized to try to shape Brexit negotiations, it is one of five industries already working to strike a “sector deal” with the government.
“To develop a deal with the government, an industry or sector would need to show how the companies within the sector could take actions to transform their strategic prospects, and how the government could increase the prospects of success,” officials wrote in a paper outlining the new industrial strategy.
The needs of the industry will dictate the details of the deal. Officials want the life science sector and other industries to come to them with plans to boost productivity, investment, exports and other metrics—and suggestions for how the government can help. The government is open to helping by addressing bothersome regulations and clearing barriers to overseas markets.
Sir John Bell, chair of the Office for Strategic Coordination of Health Research, is heading up a team working on a deal for the life science sector. The government said the goal is to come up with “a new strategy to make the U.K. the best place in the world to invest in life sciences.”
Politicians have made similar utterances since publishing a dedicated life sciences strategy in 2011. The difference now is the government has a less hands-off attitude to business and Brexit has ramped up both the opportunity for change and the risks.
Depending on the outcome of Brexit negotiations, the areas in which the government has said it is willing to intervene to help businesses—such as regulations and market access—could look dramatically different in a few years than they do today regardless of the U.K.’s industrial strategy.
May is looking to the industrial strategy to shape post-Brexit Britain—and show businesses at home and abroad that the country can thrive outside of the European Union. The sector deals were unveiled alongside other initiatives in a 132-page paper.
Many of the initiatives discussed in the paper were in place before May came to power. But, while even the most laissez-faire of U.K. governments has pursued some activist policies, May is notably more enthusiastic about interventionism than her predecessor. Such a difference in thinking was evident when May began her leadership campaign in July by arguing the government should have done more to protect AstraZeneca from Pfizer during the megamerger scrap.