Queen’s Speech 2021 sets out ambitious agenda for UK life sciences and healthcare

Written on 12 May 2021

New parliamentary term will be packed with legislation for life sciences and healthcare businesses

This year's Queen Speech has laid out the government's vision for the UK after the pandemic, with the life sciences and healthcare central to its plans for economic recovery.

The prime minister, in his statement in the House Of Commons on the Queen's Speech 2021, indicated the government's intention to build on the extraordinary work of the life sciences and healthcare sector during the Covid-19 pandemic with plans for a new Advanced Research and Inventions Agency (ARIA) to fund research and development (R&D) and improvements to health via the Health and Care Bill.

The government's ambition is for the UK to lead the world in life sciences, pioneering new treatments and securing investment and jobs across the country. The agenda for the next parliamentary session also includes a bill to regulate state aid, pledges to "level up" skills, further legislation on national security and investment, and a legislation in the Finance Bill on R&D tax credits for small and medium enterprises.

ARIA and R&D funding

The Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill will establish a new UK agency to search for ground-breaking scientific discoveries. ARIA will fund high-risk, high-reward R&D and is positioned as bringing an innovative approach to research funding.

The ARIA Bill was previously introduced in the last Parliament but the commitment in the Queen's Speech to this new agency and to the "fastest ever increase in public funding for research" highlights the importance of R&D to the social and economic recovery of the UK from the impact of the pandemic.

Part of these commitments will include a new £20 million Medicines and Diagnostics Manufacturing Transformation Fund to support pharmaceutical, diagnostic and medtech companies to secure investments in the UK and to build on the UK's domestic manufacturing capability.

Health and Care Bill

The new Health and Care Bill seeks to empower the NHS to embrace technology and innovate, as well as providing patients with tailored and preventative care.

The white paper published in February previews the proposals for the Bill including the removal of barriers to integration of the healthcare system and of bureaucracy which makes decision making processes harder, as well as increased accountability. The white paper also sets out an intention to allow the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency to develop and maintain publicly funded and operated national medicine registries to support the safe use of medicine through data collection on the use and uptake of medicines.

Subsidy Control Bill

Now free from the ties of the EU State aid regime, the Subsidy Control Bill aims to implement a domestic UK subsidy control regime to regulate support to private companies. The new system will enable authorities to deliver subsidies which deliver priorities for the economy such as the increase in UK R&D investment. This could mean the removal of certain barriers to investment for start-ups in this sector.

Skills

One of the central pledges of the government's agenda is the "levelling up" of opportunities for jobs and economic growth, in particular in growing the private sector, across the country.

The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill is designed to transform access to skills across the country to enable people the opportunity to train and retrain at any stage in their lives. Downing Street has announced it will be introduced to Parliament on 18 May. As part of the Bill, employers will be enabled to collaborate with education providers to develop skills plans to upskill people to meet employment needs.

National security and investment

The National Security and Investment Act, which was passed in the last Parliament, established a new mechanism for the screening of investments into sensitive sectors of the economy which may pose a risk to national security. Secondary legislation is anticipated in the coming parliamentary term with 17 areas identified as giving rise to such risks. These include artificial intelligence and synthetic biology, which are technologies that are increasingly critical to the UK LSH sector.

Finance

This session of Parliament will also see the passage through of the 2021 Finance Bill which legislates for tax changes in the March 2021 budget. These include a PAYE cap in R&D tax credits for small and medium enterprises with targeted exemptions that mean many early stage companies in the sector will not be affected by the cap.

Next steps

In the coming weeks and months the draft legislation will be published and the bills will move through Parliament in the usual way with revision and debate. We will bring you insights on the implications of the draft legislation once published.