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Unlocking scale up capital to drive healthtech innovation in the UK

By Douglas Hansen-Luke, Executive Chairman, Future Planet Capital



With a general election on the horizon, the political landscape is rife with debate and disagreement.

But politicians of every stripe at least appear to agree on one thing: that the life sciences sector is vital for the health of Britain’s economy. For now, and in the future.

The past month alone has seen Labour roll out its plans for the sector, promising an extra £10 billion in funding for research and development, should the party take the reins following the election.

Just days earlier, Tony Blair and William Hague argued for a national biotech plan.

And let us not forget the stream of government announcements last year, including a growth package of £650 million, intended to boost life sciences investment in the UK and increase economic growth.

So too did the Chancellor’s Mansion House reforms demonstrate the Government’s commitment to unlocking capital for investment in innovation.

The consensus is that the life sciences matter. Quite rightly so.

The UK is well-placed to pioneer the way forward for life science research and entrepreneurialism.

We already have at our disposal world-class research facilities, top-tier academic institutions, and an abundance of scientific expertise, all geared toward the life sciences; an ecosystem that has, after all, been described as the envy of the world.

We also have the NHS, which, as the and with the data of 70  at its fingertips, can provide serious scale potential for British healthtech, if properly harnessed.

But right now, there is a depressing pattern for many of our brilliant new health and biotech companies. They get seed funding. They do well.

They look to scale-up. Then they either fail to get the money they need to reach scale, or they have to find it in the US.

There’s no harm in overseas investment. In fact, we need more of it.

But in too many cases, we see our brilliant young biotech and healthtech businesses traverse the Atlantic – finding their way to a US listing and a lab in Boston.

In either case, British creativity can be stymied or forced abroad by a lack of capital.

And the fact that this clear problem is now widely acknowledged, doesn’t mean it’ll disappear overnight.

                    Douglas Hansen-Luke

I’m excited to see what this government can do, what Labour will propose and how ideas from the Tony Blair institute can continue to shape discussions.

And I welcome further direction from politicians as a means of focusing investment. But we can’t rely on politicians alone.

There is a potential solution, but it requires action from the private sector, too. Capital is available, both in the UK and abroad.

And, with the right expertise and guidance behind it, we can focus it on life sciences and meet this funding drought.

More than that, though, this cash needs a vehicle.

The private sector should rally, to create a UK-wide investment platform that can activate the capital locked up in Britain’s insurance and pension funds.

In doing so, it will contribute to finding a long-term and sustainable solution that pensioners, scaleups, and wider society can each benefit from.

A wealth of investment opportunity exists within the UK life sciences ecosystem. As does the investment expertise. And, ultimately, the funding is available too.

Now, though, we need to put the pieces of this puzzle in place, to bring together the right investees, the right money, and the right decisionmakers.

As politicians set the direction for policy, the private sector must take practical, tangible, on-the-ground action.

If we do, we might just set the course for turning our shared vision of a world-leading investment environment for life sciences companies into a reality.

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