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Highlights from the ABPI Annual Conference 2024

We enjoyed an interesting day hearing about the future of the UK life sciences industry at the ABPI Annual Conference 2024. The conference brings together speakers and attendees from across the full breadth of the life sciences sector to discuss the current health of the UK life sciences industry and key priorities for the future. In this article we summarise three key talking points from the day.


The 2024 voluntary scheme for branded medicines pricing, access and growth (VPAG) entered into force on 1 January 2024, replacing its predecessor voluntary scheme, VPAS. VPAG is the result of protracted negotiations in 2023 between DHSC, NHS England and the ABPI, acting as the representative body of the pharmaceutical industry in the UK.

VPAG will run for five years and will have a significant impact on the UK life sciences industry. VPAG featured heavily at the conference and was referenced in almost all of the various sessions. A session dedicated to VPAG set out to consider how the UK life sciences industry can ensure that VPAG drives investment in the UK and encourages the development and adoption of innovative medicines. The speakers for this session included a representative from the DHSC, the NHS, a life sciences think tank and academia.

All the speakers in this session noted that the agreement of VPAG itself represents a significant step forward from the position a year ago. The negotiations between the industry and the government were very challenging and the speakers emphasised that it is positive that a deal was agreed in time. Both the DHSC and ABPI seem to share the belief that VPAG supports the shared ambitions and strengths of all parties to it.

Both the ABPI and DHSC emphasised that VPAG includes novel provisions that have not been present in voluntary schemes of the past. These new terms, such as a differentiated repayment mechanism that distinguishes between “new” and “older” medicines, significantly increase the complexity of the scheme and this means that it will be crucial to monitor the impact of VPAG to ensure that unintended consequences are identified early and steps taken to minimise these effects.

Implementing the O’Shaughnessy Review

In May 2023, the independent O’Shaughnessy review into UK commercial clinical trials was published. The review set out 27 recommendations where action should be taken by the government and delivery partners, including MHRA and the NIHR, to address key challenges and transform the UK commercial clinical trials environment.

The implementation of these recommendations was discussed in detail during a session with speakers from both the MHRA and the NIHR. The speaker from the MHRA acknowledged that the MHRA has been through a period of transition and restated the MHRA’s intention to adopt a more collaborative approach in general but also specifically in the context of the pathway for clinical trials. The discussion frequently referenced the Covid-19 pandemic and the flexible ways of working between regulators and industry that contributed to the rapid roll out of vaccinations. There was a consensus that the current pathway for trials in the UK could be improved through implementation of some of these dynamics.

Another key takeaway from this discussion was how the implementation of the O’Shaughnessy recommendations will be measured. It is important that industry is able to gauge whether the environment for trials is improving. The speakers agreed that the overall number of commercial clinical trials being conducted in the UK is a useful metric but warned that “chasing the numbers” is unlikely to deliver the changes that are required. It was stressed that the quality of the trials was also key. The number of complex, phase III trials conducted in the UK should be given greater weight than simpler, phase I trials and other studies.

Political visions for the UK life sciences industry

The conference featured both an interview with the current Minister of State for the Department of Science, Innovation and Technology, Andrew Griffiths MP, and a keynote speech and interview from Chi Onwurah MP, Labour Shadow Minister for Science, Research and Innovation.

Given the upcoming general election, these sessions offered an interesting opportunity to hear from the current government and the Labour Party, which at the time of writing are predicted to be the party that forms the next UK government, as regards their respective visions for the future of the UK life sciences industry.

The conservative minister was keen to talk up the current government’s track record in relation to prioritising and investing in the life sciences industry. 

The Labour Shadow Minister’s speech set out Labour’s ambitions for the life sciences sector in the UK and introduced the Labour Party’s recently published plan for the UK life sciences sector – A Prescription for Growth. In this plan, the life sciences sector underpins two critical missions of the Labour Party: to secure the highest growth in the G7; and to secure the future of the NHS. In the interview following this keynote speech, the chair praised the Labour Party for successfully aligning departments in the shadow cabinet in a manner that has the potential to improve the effectiveness of government. The discussion also touched upon Labour’s plans for a regulatory innovation office to speed up regulatory processes and deliver growth in the UK life sciences industry and wider UK economy.

Overarching theme from industry

Finally, a clear message from the UK life sciences industry was articulated through the sessions but also the questions posed from the audience. This message was that above all, the UK industry needs consistency and predictability. The UK life sciences industry has endured a turbulent time in recent years in adjusting to the complex consequences of Brexit and recovering from the impact of the pandemic and in order for this industry to grow, companies and potential investors in the UK life sciences industry must be able to trust that the UK is good place to invest.


life sciences regulatory, life sciences, commentary