ABPI Conference 2023: Chief Executive speech

ABPI Chief Executive Richard Torbett opened the ABPI's Annual Conference 2023. 

I firmly believe that we can grow the UK as a global hub for our sector and in doing so will bring large benefits to everyone in this country. Richard Torbett, ABPI Chief Executive

Hello everyone, and welcome to our Annual Conference. Thank you all for joining us in this fantastic venue.

For anyone who doesn’t know me, I’m Richard Torbett, Chief Executive of the ABPI.

The team at ABPI has lined up a tremendous agenda together for you today, with many excellent speakers from across the industry, Government, the NHS and the wider life sciences and health community and the world of politics.

As well as the conversations we will be having in this room, I encourage you all to also visit our superb array of exhibitors when you can, including a number of our partnering patient organisations – a really good mix of people and organisations.

Please take the time to visit them and hear about their important work.

Today is all about how we can grow the UK as a leading global centre for life sciences.

There can be no doubt that the UK’s life sciences industry is at a crossroads right now – one way leads to economic growth, a thriving research and development ecosystem, and better health outcomes for UK patients.

The other path frankly has the UK slipping further down international league tables, our regions and nations continuing to miss out on investment, and poorer health and productivity outcomes across the country.

I firmly believe that we can grow the UK as a global hub for our sector and in doing so will bring large benefits to everyone in this country.

Let’s remind ourselves of the UK’s strengths.

We have excellent universities – genuine world leaders in science and research.

We’ve been an open trading nation for a long time, with superb connectivity and an international outlook.

We also have the NHS, the largest integrated health system in the world.

All this - as well as a life sciences sector to be proud of.

One that generates more than £36billion for the UK economy providing over 580,000 jobs (From PWC report)

One that is consistently the largest investor in UK R&D – demonstrating the potential and power of innovation-led growth.

The NHS is under huge pressures at the moment, we know that.

Ours is one of the few sectors that genuinely has the potential to generate the kind of economic growth needed to support investment in public services that we all want to see.

Are we firing on all cylinders at the moment? Frankly not really. We have so much more to add if only we can put the right conditions in place.

Research last year by PWC demonstrated that our industry could add £68 billion to UK GDP over the next 30 years, just from increased R&D investment of we fully deliver the life sciences vision.

We could see £16.3 billion additional annual GDP from increased pharmaceutical exports.

We could support another 85,000 jobs if we get it right.

So for the Government to generate economic growth at this crucial time, supporting life sciences will deliver more significant results - more sustainably - than many other sectors.

One of the key areas we’ll be focussing on today is the need to address the decline in UK clinical trials, turning around the 48% decline in Phase III UK studies that we’ve seen between 2017 and 2021.

We’re working with Government to turn this around, and there have been some really important steps forward in the past few months.

For example in the Budget – with more funding and support for the MHRA

The Chancellor’s announcements about speeding up approvals for new medicines, and the commitment to increase collaboration with global regulators were all very welcome and will help pharmaceutical companies bringing new medicines to patients.

Ensuring R&D intensive SMEs could benefit from a more generous rate of R&D tax credits, alongside the introduction of the ‘full expensing’ model of Capital Allowances, were also positive steps.

And we look forward to the upcoming review by Lord O’Shaughnessy on steps to recover the UK’s commercial clinical trials capability.

These are all valuable steps forward, but there is much more that we need to do to boost clinical research.

A recent survey by the Campaign for Science and Engineering found that many people still see research is a luxury rather than a necessity. I know I’m preaching to the converted here, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Research benefits patients. People treated in research-active hospitals get better care, better outcomes, and have lower mortality rates.

And on top of that, research generates valuable income for the NHS.

And it can also help the NHS tackle the health inequalities that seem so entrenched.

So I’m also looking forward to our session later on R&D and how we can truly make it an engine for growth.

Now, I can’t welcome you all to today’s conference without mentioning the upcoming Voluntary Scheme negotiations – the VPAS, this is an acronym that will be familiar to many of you.

I see the upcoming negotiations as absolutely critical to improve the operating environment for every part of our industry.

Right now, I know that VPAS is being discussed in global boardrooms in – shall we say - not very complimentary terms.

All of us appreciate the huge need to make progress quickly. In order for the UK to be a global leading hub, we must be internationally competitive.

I hope you will have all seen the proposals we published in March for a new agreement with the government which we believe will deliver for patients, the NHS and the economy.

Our vision for a new Voluntary Scheme for Pricing, Access and this time, Growth (VPAG) (not a brilliant acronym) would deliver a sustainable approach to medicines provision while also maximising the potential of the UK life sciences industry.

They include measures to ensure rapid patient access and adoption of new medicines, as well as opportunities to improve health outcomes and productivity for the whole country.

Securing this vision will require a new mindset from everyone, from government, system partners and us in industry.

It will require building on the partnership and trust forged during the pandemic.

It will require learning from successes like the Vaccine Taskforce, recognising that real progress comes from drawing on the strengths and experience of both the public and the private sectors.

Working together, we can create the conditions for innovative medicines to deliver their true value as an investment in the nation’s future health, wealth, and productivity.

I know our industry can be a force for enormous good at this crucial time for the NHS and the economy.

I see news of the good work companies are doing, working with partners in health systems, every day.

Whether it's positive trial results for new medicines and vaccines. 

Whether its more new innovative medicines being provided to patients through the NHS all the time. 

And indeed, new investment – while we’d like to see more companies doing this – firms continuing to invest in the UK. 

I was really pleased to be at my colleagues at Moderna earlier this week for their groundbreaking ceremony.

Enjoy today’s conference, and I hope the discussions give you interesting food for thought.

Last modified: 26 April 2024

Last reviewed: 26 April 2024

The ABPI exists to make the UK the best place in the world to research, develop and use new medicines. We represent companies of all sizes who invest in discovering the medicines of the future. 

Our members supply cutting edge treatments that improve and save the lives of millions of people. We work in partnership with Government and the NHS so patients can get new treatments faster and the NHS can plan how much it spends on medicines. Every day, we partner with organisations in the life sciences community and beyond to transform lives across the UK.