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ABPI conference panel session: Research and development as an engine for growth

At ABPI’s Annual Conference 2023, the panel sessions kicked off with a debate on ‘Research and Development as an engine for growth’.

The speakers were:

  • Panel chair Russell Abberley, General Manager for UK and Ireland at Amgen
  • Dr Jill Richardson, Executive Director and Head of Biology, MSD at the London Discovery Centre
  • Dr Jonathan Pearce, Director of Strategy and Planning at the Medical Research Council
  • Dr Catherine Elliott, Director of Research and Partnerships at Cancer Research UK
  • Simon Denegri, Executive Director at The Academy of Medical Sciences


In his opening remarks, Russell Abberley, Amgen reiterated that industry shares the Government’s commitment for the UK to be a life sciences superpower, noting that R&D is the single biggest catalyst for driving growth, with the pharmaceutical industry being the biggest R&D investor in the UK.

He also summarised some of the challenges that R&D is facing in the UK, such as the fragmentation of the UK offer for genomics, the decline in industry clinical trials, and the ongoing uncertainty on the UK accession to Horizon Europe.

He said this has resulted in the UK's share of global pharmaceutical R&D declining over the past decade, falling from 4.9% in 2012 to 3.2% in 2022, with many companies moving their investments to other countries.

Dr Catherine Elliott, Cancer Research UK highlighted that cancer remains the leading cause of death in the UK causing more than one in four of all deaths in 2020. Currently, one in two people will get cancer in their lifetime. At current growth rates, over 500,000 will be diagnosed every year by 2038.

She said that now, one in two people will live more than 10 years after a diagnosis, which is up from one in four in the 1970s. But some survival for some cancers remains poor. She cited the HPV vaccination as a great example of cancer prevention, with cervical cancer rates falling by 90%.

On clinical trials, she agreed there was still a lot of work to do. She underlined the benefits of research, noting every £1 spent on cancer research, there is £2.80 economic benefit. She stressed the need for research in the UK to be fully funded and sustainable. Finally, she celebrated the UK’s diverse research ecosystem but underlined the need for more ‘clusters of excellence’ in research right across the country.

Dr Jill Richardson of MSD, highlighted her organisation’s commitment to the UK, giving the example of their £1billion investment in a discovery centre in London, which will ultimately host 180 discovery scientists.

She noted that the UK is a leading force in science, with London close in location to institutes and universities of research excellence.

She emphasised the need to have the right talent but made clear that the commercial environment in the UK is challenging. Major pathway challenges, along with access and bureaucratic challenges, lead to in the London Discovery Centre having to compete with other markets to translate their discoveries. She cited the example in Spain where there is a much stronger mandate for research, with a goal for the maximum set-up and approval time for new trials not exceeding three months.

Dr Jonathan Pearce of the Medical Research Council said that the MRC are thinking long-term, looking to prove value and draw in further investment. For functional genomics to be effective, “we need to be able to perturb the system.”

On advanced therapies, he said the MRC are committed to growing this field – putting in capabilities that will support the field as opposed to single projects.

He also highlighted the timescales involved. MRC are looking to bring experimental medicines to market within five to seven years. He also argued that primary and secondary prevention “would be good to explore” and noted the £45 billion impact on the economy from ill health.

He noted that there have been some fantastic breakthroughs this year, such as cures through gene therapies, and expressed the need to take breakthroughs for smaller patient groups wider.

In this, he said, it would be critical to have a partnership between the charity and pharmaceutical sectors, including patient insight. He talked about an opportunity to coalesce a shared voice across the sector – and highlighted a concern that life sciences are not fully embedded as a Government priority.

Simon Denegri, The Academy of Medical Sciences talked about his organisation’s work on a health research ecosystem report, to be published soon.  

In terms of driving growth, he said that it is fundamental to have a health research system that is more patient-centred. He stressed that association to Horizon Europe is vital, but it is appropriate to have a Plan B because there is still a risk that association might not be possible.

He also welcomed the upcoming publication of Lord O’Shaughnessy’s review of industry clinical trials.  He said that some of the conversations he has with Integrated Care Systems were good, but the thing that has constantly disappointed him is the implication that the NHS isn’t supportive of research. He urged the Government to embrace a culture shift that sees the NHS as a true driver of research and innovation.

He also talked about the need to address the ‘soft underbelly’ of research, which is workforce, saying it is important to support the NHS with the right skills so that they can become bridge builders. He saw investing in the leaders of tomorrow as critical to the health research ecosystem.

  • Annual Conference

Last modified: 20 September 2023

Last reviewed: 20 September 2023