Does the UK’s Life Sciences sector provide us with a unique opportunity for helping the world’s ageing populations?

Does the UK’s Life Sciences sector provide us with a unique opportunity for helping the world’s ageing populations?

  • Japan; Italy; Greece.
  • Germany; Portugal; Finland.
  • Bulgaria; Sweden; Latvia.

These countries read like a bucket list – but it’s not glorious holiday destinations that they have in common. It’s ageing. These nine countries have the highest percentage of over 65s within their populations. In fact, over ¼ of Japan’s population is 65+. The United Nations defines ageing as a global issue. They indicate that most countries in the world are experiencing a changing demographic, with populations ageing rapidly. In 2017 there were roughly 962 million people aged 60+ but the UN estimate that this number will rise to around 3.2 billion in 2100.

What Will Ageing Affect?

This trend is impacting most aspects of society – including the labour market, financial markets, government, and public services. You name it, an ageing population will affect it. One of the most obvious areas that is affected by an aging population is health and health services.

In 2014, The Kings Fund published a white paper that said the number of people aged 85 has doubled in the past 30 years, and when the NHS was founded in 1948, 48% of the UK population would die before their 65th birthday. Now, only 14% will. Similar patterns are found across the globe. Whilst this trend is something to celebrate, it’s problematic for our health services because they have more people to treat – and older people tend to have more complex health needs.

How Can UK Life Sciences Help?

Whilst we can be extremely proud of our country’s increased life expectancy, we are actually only 24th on the list of global ageing populations. No where near to stealing Japan’s crown. One area where we do rank highly is life sciences research, and life sciences research is what’s needed to help our health services handle aging populations.

Through research councils and the National Institute for Health Research, the UK invests £2 billion per year in health life sciences.

Government funding is funnelled into helping businesses to bring their life sciences research to the market so that it can be utilised for innovative new products – in pharma, medical devices, and elsewhere. Jo Johnson said in parliament at the beginning of 2017 that the plan was to ‘make the UK the best place in the world to invest in life sciences’.

In fact, last year, almost £1 billion was invested in London life science companies alone. This meant that the city received the highest amount out of those in Europe, including Paris and Berlin. Whilst £908.8 million flowed into companies pioneering our research and development, Berlin received almost half, seeing £563.5 invested. Paris investments came in at only £344 million, followed by Stockholm with £71.2 million and Madrid with £40.3 million. These figures make it abundantly clear that the UK is pushing forward with the most enthusiasm in the life sciences sector.

Why Are We Uniquely Positioned to Help?

Clearly, government interest in making our life sciences industry the best in the world means that our researchers will be given the funding they need to make a real difference- both at home and abroad. The government and the life sciences sector have agreed upon a Sector Deal that will support UK innovation and our research and development in life sciences is cutting edge. This will see £146 million invested in the sector over the next 4 years – focusing on innovation in vaccinations, advanced therapies and more. 

We are also in possession of several huge strengths – including NHS datasets and world renowned educational institutes that give the UK a fantastic head start in life sciences research. Our graduates are taught in the very best facilities and it is their current and future work that will really help to provide answers to the healthcare problems that population ageing brings.

As Lord Prior Brampton, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, wrote in the introduction to Life Sciences Competitiveness Indicators, “The UK has one of the strongest and most productive health and life sciences industries in the world.” The study was published by Britain’s Office for Life Services and showed UK Government spending on health research and development to be the leading figure in the EU, beating other countries including France, Germany and Spain to the top spot.

So, in short, our life sciences sector does indeed have a unique opportunity to help the world’s ageing populations. Our scientists study in the best places, have unparalleled access to knowledge, and are supported by government plans to champion UK life sciences.

‘Using the technologies that we develop, and the companies that have developed as a result of them, to export globally will transform healthcare throughout the world and, therefore, also ensure and enhance the standing of our country as a leader in healthcare and life sciences.’ – Lord Kakkar, 2018.

Nick McCoy
Life Science Practice Lead at Kelly Services
To talk with Nick email: