Reimagining the Future of Life Sciences

Article originally published with PharmaTimes.


One year on from the launch of the Government’s Life Sciences Vision, Scott Cooke, General Manager, Bristol Myers Squibb UK & Ireland, reflects on the UK’s unique opportunity to strengthen its capabilities and become a life sciences superpower by 2030.

The COVID-19 pandemic showed what can be achieved when the NHS, Government, universities, the charity sector and the life sciences industry work together. There’s an immediate and important opportunity to build an even stronger life sciences innovation culture in the UK. To realise this, we need to maintain and grow this unprecedented collaboration.

My ambition is that, as part of the UK healthcare eco-system, we can help more people to live longer, healthier lives. But to do this, the UK must redefine its priorities and focus on creating an environment where the life sciences sector can thrive.

When the Government announced the Life Sciences Vision last year, it outlined an ambition to become a life science superpower by 2030.1 As a significant contributor in the UK, I feel there’s an opportunity to join the conversation. Earlier this year, Bristol Myers Squibb worked with PwC to identify the areas the UK should focus on to achieve the goals set out in the Vision, in our ‘Reimagining the future of life sciences’ report, which we hope will help us build on the recent boost in collaboration we’ve seen across the life sciences ecosystem.

How does the UK currently rank vs other large economies, and what can it do to become more competitive?

The UK life sciences ecosystem must be as compelling and internationally competitive as possible to attract investment and talent. Our report provides an overview of the country’s competitiveness in life sciences when compared with other major markets. The Life Sciences Index, which accompanies our report, shows that the UK currently ranks 7th out of 12 large economies, based on supercharging capabilities where we have the greatest potential for life sciences leadership. It highlights some key areas of focus to improve the UK’s position.

Data and AI

The UK has some of the richest healthcare data in the world, with the potential to become the first country to fully integrate healthcare datasets and use AI routinely in diagnostics, assisting clinical decision-making and addressing long-term disease prevention. However, understanding how data is used for research – including how AI can be used with that data – must be improved among clinicians and the public. The country also needs a competitive and diverse healthcare data science workforce, supported by robust education programmes (such as MDs and PhDs), better incentives to attract and retain data scientists, and system integration architects that can operate at all levels within the NHS.

Longer-term, the UK’s health data needs to span the entire patient journey across social, primary, secondary and tertiary care. Health data and conventional patient records will need to be supplemented by world-class whole-population data assets contained in longitudinal cohorts, imaging, pathology, and citizen-generated remote monitoring data assets. I believe that by doing this, it will open the door to more personalised and holistic care for individuals, bringing benefits of scale to researchers and industry, and enabling fully informed decision-making.

Clinical trials

Covering a population of 65 million, the NHS is the world’s largest integrated health service, and the UK is already a European leader in Phase I commercial clinical trials. However, in late-stage clinical research, it has the opportunity to be even more competitive. An immediate priority is to address the ongoing disruption to clinical research caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and ‘reset’ the system. We can then look to the future. Adopting a single, centralised way to run trials, and streamlining costing, contracting and regulatory approvals, will make it easier for the NHS to support late-stage clinical research, while also collaborating to maximise productivity and visibility of research. There’s an opportunity to pioneer experimental medicine studies, if appropriate R&D funding is made available.

In future, the UK should increase digitalisation throughout the research ecosystem, enabling clinical trials to use higher volumes of more complex data as well as new technology. To achieve this, it must become better at harnessing real world evidence from the NHS to provide a real-time, holistic view of patient health. It also needs to make it easier for patients to register their interest in trial participation, strengthen the associated consent model, and invest in infrastructure, e.g. 5G and community hubs to enable remote trials.

Improving access to innovative medicines

Life sciences innovation is most beneficial if there’s widespread access and uptake of new and innovative medicines. The government has taken steps to improve this, but the UK still invests less in medicines than comparable countries.2 For every 100 patients who get a new medicine in its first year of launch in France and Germany, just 21 patients get access in the UK.3 Improving the access environment means some patients in the UK could benefit from the latest advances in medicine, which can result in better health outcomes.

Often, the long-term value of innovative medicines isn’t fully considered. The UK must establish a more holistic framework for valuing and prioritising innovative treatments to increase access to medicines. This framework should include the broader social determinants of health (SDOH) so that health improvements can be spread universally across the population and regional inequalities addressed. The SDOH can, for example, account for factors like education, employment, social inclusion and access to affordable health services.

With more use of real-world evidence, the system can enable greater use of outcomes-based contracts and pricing models that take into account comorbidities, patient adherence and patient outcomes, positively impacting cancer outcomes, in particular.

A call for the ecosystem to come together

Our report shows that advances in technology, better use of data, and more personalised care will fundamentally transform how we prevent, diagnose and treat disease. At the same time, patient-centred care will empower people to take more ownership of their health and wellbeing. I believe the UK has all the building blocks to become a leading global hub for life sciences by 2030, and by supporting life sciences businesses to grow and thrive, the UK can build a healthier and more productive workforce.

There’s no doubt an exciting road lies ahead, and the 2030 vision is right. But there is more to do, and we need to work collaboratively within the life sciences ecosystem to seize this opportunity and make it a reality.


1. Life Sciences Vision – GOV.UK. Accessed 03 May 2022 (Available at:

2. OECD, Pharmaceutical spending (indicator), 2021. doi: 10.1787/998febf6-en. Accessed 03 May 2022 (Available at:

3. ABPI, Why is it important to improve access to medicine in the UK? 2021. Accessed 03 May 2022. (Available at:



July 2022