UK strength in genomics offset by weakness across life sciences

Statistics published today in the UK by the Department of Health, the Office of Life Sciences and the Department for Business, reveal a mixed picture with an overall modest increase in life sciences economic activity in the ten years from 2009 to 2018.

Overall, the life sciences industry grew by just £2.0 billion (2.8%) from £71.8 billion to £73.8 billion, affected principally by restructuring in the biopharma sector between 2010 and 2014. Since 2014, the industry has recovered and grown by 7.2%.

Digital health was worth £1.4 billion to the UK economy in 2018, an increase of £152 million (12.2%) compared with 2009. Genomics-related activity generated £1.9 billion in turnover, up £0.8 billion (72.7%) in the 3 years since 2016. This includes commercial activity relating to selling equipment, reagents or services, but excludes in-house use or application of genomics for research and development. There were more than 11,000 people working in digital health in the UK in 2018, and a further 2,400 working in genomics.

The UK is a significant player in the fast-growing genomics segment, and Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health, wants to put the UK at the forefront of the industry. Currently, the largest share of genomics activity in the UK is from businesses involved in sequencing consumables and, especially, the sale of instruments, employing 1,600 and generating £1.7 billion in turnover. 

In contrast, the core biopharma sector has shrunk 9% in the UK from £36.7 billion in 2009 to £33.4 billion in 2018. The core med tech sector, which includes digital health, also shrank over the same period, by 3.6% from £19.4 billion to £18.7 billion.