UK Making Moves to Differentiate in R&D Space Seeking to Double Spend & Catch up to Others

UK Making Moves to Differentiate in R&D Space Seeking to Double Spend & Catch up to Others

UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the government will more than double their spending on research and development (R&D) by 2024. R&D spend in the UK will increase 15% for 2021 with additional increases in successive years. This pledge translates to a boosting of the proportion of private and public R&D spend from 1.7% to 2.4% by 2027.

The UK, a prominent national player in the global research ecosystem, is represented by chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance who welcomed the news, noting, “This significant increase in funding for research and development represents an overwhelming endorsement of our world-leading science base,” reported the BBC. The Campaign for Science and Engineering’s (CASE) Dr. Sarah Main noted that projections point toward the government exceeding its 2.4% goal by the target date if corresponding industry R&D increases occur.

Allocation of Capital

Apparently, Brexit-minded Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s chief advisor, is a key player and power-broker behind the scenes, leading discussions with various scientific leaders about how cash should best be spent. He noted that in all reality, the increase is compensating for the previous cuts. The BBC offered clues that the UK government is interested in “luring money from the private sector” in a quest to stimulate further private sector R&D investment. A benchmark of interest: progressing the UK toward the levels of R&D spend in America, Germany and South Korea, the industry must double its R&D spend as well. Although other leadership in the UK has tried and failed at material boosting aggregate R&D, there is a sense of optimism that it can work this time.

Final details of allocation of capital will be shared in a spending review later in 2020 while in the meantime it was shared that Chancellor Sunak reported a new research body in the UK—similar to the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD)-based Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)—would be awarded 800 £million. Known as “British Arpa” and backed by Mr. Cummings, it would be a conduit to channel funds for “ambitious proposals in emerging fields with a high risk of failure but great potential.”

Academic Medical Centers to Benefit

The UK government also indicated that additional news funds would circulate through academic medical center research (medical and clinical research) beyond the elite universities outside of London, Oxford, and Cambridge which was welcome news for UK’s Royal Society Sir Venki RamakrishnanProfessor Sir Robert Lechler, president of the Academy of Medical Sciences, was delighted with the news, noting, “This increase in funding has the potential to transform our capacity in medical research and our ability to address major health and societal challenges.”

Where does the UK Stand?

TrialSite News research reviewed basic research reports for an understanding of the research and development (R&D) landscape by nation. These data—and corresponding national rankings—can be understood by total R&D spend or by percentage of total GDP (PPP). China and the United States stand apart in aggregate spend and according to some sources, China actually surpasses America. In other reports, China “closes the gap with the U.S.” According to another U.S. leads with $476.5b against China’s $370.6b. 

From one source, the UK ranks number eight in total ranking from a couple years ago but doesn’t fare well when viewed from the percentage of total GDP basis where it ranks 22nd in the world.

UK is a World-Elite Player when it comes to Biotech R&D

There are a handful of elite biotech clusters around the world. The UK is a major player in the drug development world and Mr. Cummings should seriously consider leveraging its strengths in this sector with the development of the new British Arpa and other endeavors. In fact, as will be highlighted, below the UK is a world-elite biotech R&D market.

For example, according to one interesting report, the Cambridge biotech cluster cranks out significantly more scientific publications (per capita and total) than other competitors including Boston, Basel, Munich, etc. Moreover, at least from 2011 to 2015, Cambridge scientific publications are across the board the most cited, except for chemistry and immunology where Boston closely beats out Cambridge. Moreover, the Cambridge, UK, region represents one of the strongest biotech clusters when factoring in total number of biotech companies in an area. And from 2005 to 2015 Cambridge ranks second to Boston in biotech early and late-stage venture capital investments. Of the world’s elite university life science-based programs, the UK has two ranking in the top 10, including University of Cambridge (#2) and University of Oxford (#3). According to a McKinsey Report European ranking, the UK ranks number one in Europe


The UK is actually playing “catch up” with its R&D spend on a percentage of GDP based on previous cuts. However, the UK contains world-elite biotech clusters that should be the basis of additional concentrated investment to capitalize on existing networks, institutions and firms as it will help not only maintain this elite status but also continue its growth.