UK pharmaceutical and life sciences: what will the next decade have in store?

13 March 2020

by Anthony Bruce Pharmaceutical and Life Sciences Leader, PwC United Kingdom

Email +44 (0)7801 916767


With a strong scientific community, the UK has a proven track-record of developing innovative new treatments and medical technologies. The recent Life sciences industrial strategy update shows the achievements of the sector over the last few years where key investments in infrastructure, technology, digital enablers and skills which will undoubtedly help maintain the UK’s status post-Brexit. I’ve worked most of my career on large scale transformation programmes so I’m really excited to have just taken on the role of UK Pharmaceutical & Life Sciences Leader to work with our clients during a period of significant change.

Entering a new decade

As we look to the future, it’s also important to reflect on lessons from the past and learn from how the sector has responded to change before. Our ‘Pharma 2020’ series, that was launched in around 2010, looked at the major trends that would impact the industry and proposed strategies to respond to them. It seems fitting that now that we have entered the actual year 2020 to revisit those insights to see what we can learn as we look ahead to upcoming challenges.

At the start of the last decade we said: “Pharma’s future has never looked more promising – or more ominous. Major scientific, technological and socioeconomic changes will revive the industry’s fortunes in another decade, but capitalising on these trends will entail making crucial decisions first.”

So, did any of our past predictions come true?

A quick selection...

Poor scientific productivity: This is still a major issue faced by the industry, with increasing costs to get drugs to market, the need to improve the rate at which drugs are put through trials and regulator tests is imperative.

Customer value: Treatment and drugs need to provide value to the customer if they want to continue selling their drugs. This Value-Based Pricing now seems to be, for the most part, the norm.

Personalised gene sequencing: There are more and more examples of national level sponsorship to use gene sequencing to aid drug development e.g. UK Biobank and the 100,000 genomes project in England. 23andMe is also an example of the private sector finding a successful business model.

What is yet to happen?

R&D big data shifting from treatment to prevention: A greater focus on prevention hasn't really happened yet. Pharma companies are still really only focusing on drugs that treat diseases. Yes big data is being used to develop more targeted drugs with increased probability of success, but not in the context of prevention.

Mobile care for the masses: Video streaming doctors for appointments or even major hospitals could be using interactive holograms that can answer basic health questions... This may still be the future of healthcare but we haven’t quite reached the point where it is prevalent for all yet. However, Babylon Health is one organisation that is one of many taking off in this area, so we wait to see how this could impact pharma companies in the future.

The progression of vaccine development: We predicted innovative vaccines could be produced for diseases like malaria. Progress has been made, however not quite to the extent hoped. The commercial model for drug/vaccine development for diseases that impact low to middle income countries (e.g infectious diseases) appears to be broken. There is arguably a greater focus on rare diseases and drugs that affect the few.

So, what might the future hold?

Whether it be advances in precision medicine or genomics, change will happen fast. This previous research shows that capturing increased patient involvement in decision-making, data and collaboration will be fundamental to future success.

As there are still many areas of the new global healthcare ecosystem yet to be defined, there are still many opportunities for the UK pharma and life sciences industry to actively shape the future and collectively share in the resulting benefits.

We look forward to continuing this discussion of what the future might hold in the next 10-20 years and will launch our new predictions series later this year. In the meantime subscribe to our blog.

by Anthony Bruce Pharmaceutical and Life Sciences Leader, PwC United Kingdom

Email +44 (0)7801 916767