United Kingdom

Most say the UK could be a world leader in research and development – but faces constraints on top talent

Senior executives in life sciences see a positive future outside the European Union for the UK – if it exercises new freedoms to develop world-leading research and development capabilities, according to Odgers Berndtson, a leading executive search firm.

Nearly 400 senior executives and managers working across the pharmaceuticals and life sciences were asked what they saw as being most pivotal after Brexit for the future growth of the sector ahead of an event hosted by Odgers Berndtson, with Sir Andrew Dillon, Chief Executive of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) as guest speaker. Over three-quarters (76%) of respondents were evenly split between the need to invest in world class research capabilities and to use new regulatory freedoms to implement faster clinical testing and trials.

Alongside this opportunity, however, the executives also flagged the increasing difficulty for companies seeking to attract world-class leaders to the UK. Almost half (48%) said chief executives would become the most difficult top people to attract, whilst senior leaders across medical/ scientific positions (43%) and regulatory roles (40%) followed close behind.

“These findings suggest that the UK could continue to be an attractive global centre post-Brexit,” said Chris Hamilton, Head of the Life Sciences practice at Odgers Berndtson. “However, companies will only invest and locate senior people here if the government is able to persuade them that the potential opportunities outside the UK are likely to be realised with the necessary steps and support.”

Despite much interest in the implications for the UK health sector of a US trade deal, relatively few business executives (15%) see this as a pressing challenge. Instead they cited the affordability of new technological and scientific advances and managing access to these under a universal system as the biggest issues (respectively at 44% and 41%).

Sir Andrew Dillon told guests at the Odgers Berndtson event that “Early engagement, with NICE, the MHRA and NHS England is essential, to enable the benefits and risks of new treatments to be fully explored and for their adoption into the NHS to be managed successfully.”

Business executives doubt the NHS will receive the funding it needs, however, to afford ground-breaking new therapies and treatments. Barely 15% of those polled had any confidence about this, with well over half (57%) expressing clear doubts. The vast majority (85%) believe these are the biggest challenges ahead for NICE.

Sir Andrew, who has been at the helm of NICE since its creation in 1999 and is due to stand down as its chief executive later this year, said: “Product value propositions that reflect incremental diagnostic or therapeutic benefit, combined with flexible approaches to sharing risk and managing costs, will help both companies and the NHS meet the challenges of advanced medical therapeutics.”

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