Margareta Pagano: Lessons from Darwin - how life sciences are evolving for the better

Links between academia, business and the Government are making sure Britain is kept at the forefront of a vital industry

If there is one industry where the Coalition can take credit for a genuinely original approach to business, it's the life sciences. It's a field in which the UK has always been ahead of the game – from Charles Darwin to Frederick Sanger, the biochemist who developed the method used to sequence the human genome. They have given us a rich legacy: 4,500 companies employing nearly 200,000 in the pharmaceuticals and medical biotechnology sectors with a turnover of £50bn.

Life sciences are growing fast, but they are also going through a transformation. The death of blockbuster drugs and the birth of new generic products mean research and development (R&D) has shifted out of big pharma companies into smaller partners. At the same time, medicine is exploding with discoveries such as genetically tailored drugs as well as sophisticated devices delivering treatments.

Such changes are turning the business model upside-down. If you need an example of how quickly, look back to the closure nearly two years ago of big plants run by Pfizer and AstraZeneca.

That's why David Cameron, supported by David Willetts, the relevant minister, and the Government's life science advisers – Sir John Bell, professor of medical sciences at Oxford, Chris Brinsmead and George Freeman – decided to think big with their life science strategy launched this time last year. They put in place a plan bringing together academia, industry and the National Health Service to bridge what's called the "valley of death" – the gap between the bench and the clinic – to leapfrog to the next stage of translational medicine. In a parallel approach, the NHS launched its Innovation, Health and Wealth initiative designed to open up the NHS – and its massive clinical bank of data – to innovation. Put together, these two moves show that the Coalition understands the sector; supporting economic growth but also improved patient outcomes; revolutionary as well as evolutionary.

A year on and the signs are looking good. Key to their policy was making sure there is enough finance to back the entrepreneurs; making sure the fittest survive, if you will. About £1bn of new private sector investment has come into the UK from overseas companies such as Johnson & Johnson and Novartis. UK Trade & Investment has a new Life Science Investment Organisation, and this week launched a global campaign to attract even more overseas investors to the UK. Around 10 per cent of the world's pharma R&D funding is already in the UK – seen as a launchpad into Europe, as it is still the biggest market for advanced medicines – but we want more. Tax incentives, such as the new patent box, come into force next year, while angels are also being offered new tax breaks. Government has been generous with money too, topping up with another £100m announced last week by Cameron in Cambridge for pioneering genomics to be used by the NHS to sequence the entire genome of up to 100,000 patients for work on more specific diseases. There's been a further £600m for other research such as synthetic biology.

As well improving healthcare and growth, there's another even more exciting long-term consequence; more jobs for the next generation. If the cutting-edge work of scientists such as Sanger and Bell is to be continued, we'll need more geneticists and genomic technologists. It's important that the wider public understands what is going on at the grass roots so that parents and schools are ready to encourage their young to look at the life sciences for future careers.

There are still big challenges – worries over patient data privacy for one – but this is thrilling new-frontier stuff where we have a serious chance of keeping ahead of the pack. Even the most tribal of right-wingers would agree that an industrial strategy like this is no bad thing, while those on the left must be gritting their teeth as they watch the Coalition stealing their genes. That's Darwinism in action for you.

Panter's king of pantos

Even Priscilla Presley was stunned by the numbers who flocked to see her as the Wicked Queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, her debut pantomime at the New Wimbledon Theatre. But Ms Presley shouldn't have been surprised as pantomime is bigger business than ever this year with record numbers attending the 10 pantos being put on by Howard Panter, boss of Ambassador Theatre Group, the UK's biggest theatre group with 39 venues. Mr Panter says more than half a million people have booked and predicts revenues of nearly £10m from the panto season. Mr Panter is buying theatres down Under, where audiences are not quite ready for British panto, he says. Oh yes they are!

Bailey must have some bite

Talking of Queens, if I were Andrew Bailey, head of the Prudential Regulatory Authority, which takes over regulating the banks next spring, I would pin a picture of Queen Elizabeth above my desk. The Queen asked the question everyone wanted answered after the Great Financial Crash: "Why had nobody seen it coming?" Sujit Kapadia, a Bank economist, had a go at answering her question during her tour of the Bank's bullion vaults last week. The Queen got it in one: "People had got a bit... lax, had they? The Financial Services, what do they call themselves, the regulators, Authority, it didn't have any teeth." As Mr Bailey will know, he needs to sharpen his teeth.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Sport
football
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Swiss Banking and Finance

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Can you speak German,...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - 6 month FTC - Central London

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An exciting opportunity f...

Ashdown Group: Junior Project Manager (website, web application) - Agile

£215 per day: Ashdown Group: Junior Project Manager (website, web application ...

Guru Careers: Software Engineer / Software Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software Engineer / Softw...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power