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Why is the UK’s life sciences sector so strong?

Ben Alger our consultant managing the role
Posted by  Ben Alger
Published on 4 November 2019
Despite economic uncertainty and the ever-looming threat of Brexit, many of the UK’s industries continue to thrive – and perhaps none more so than life sciences. The nation has a proud history in this field, from sir Ian Fleming’s penicillin discovery at London’s St Mary’s Hospital to the production of the contraception pill to unveiling the double helix structure of DNA. Last year alone we saw demand for professionals to work in the UK’s life sciences sector increase by 11%, with pharmaceutical firms an clinical research organisations leading the charge. Here’s what you need to know about the UK’s strong life sciences sector:


Money talks


The life science sector is financially buoyant, with the government reporting a record turnover of more than £70 billion and the highest level of life science foreign direct investments in Europe in 2017. And while the ongoing Brexit saga is threatening many industries, life sciences seems to be going from strength to strength, with £1 billion investment in UK life sciences research and development announced by UCB in December of last year and £2.2 billion invested purely in UK biotech companies. New technologies are being embraced, with artificial intelligence being used in diagnostic testing, investment in digital pathology programmes and new regional Digital Innovation Hubs, with forward-thinking companies incorporating digital transformation into their future plans. The new Life Sciences Council, which brings together ministers and industry, and the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy are helping to drive investment and fund research and development in order to strengthen the industry in the UK. And with around £30 billion in life sciences products exported by the UK in 2017, it’s clear that we cannot afford to lose focus on this goal. 

Jobs aplenty

Life sciences provides jobs for nearly 241,000 people across the country, yet we still have a life sciences talent shortage across the country. People with STEM qualifications and relevant industry experience are highly sought after, particularly as Britain’s post-Brexit economy is predicted to see a boom in the science, technology and healthcare industries, with a combined 2.7 million jobs added to the economy by 2038. The emergence of new technologies and tools is adding to the skills demand and employers are now seeking out life science professionals with skills in data science, big data and machine learning. There are high numbers of vacancies in clinical positions, meaning now is a great time for skilled candidates to be seeking out new roles across the country. Clinical research organisations have a particularly high vacancy rate, with an increase in job openings of nearly 26% in 2018. 

Competing on the global stage

The UK is known for its heavyweight life sciences capacity worldwide. Despite having just 0.9% of the world’s population, the UK contributes 3.2% of global expenditure on research and development, is home to 4.1% of the world’s researchers and publishes more than 6% of the world’s research articles. Part of the reason for the success in life sciences is the UK’s university sector, which boasts four universities in the global top 10. Then there’s the NHS, abundance of large medical research charities and the Government’s clear support and investment in UK life sciences, all of which put the country in a great position to remain leaders in life sciences regardless of the Brexit outcome. Smaller companies are thriving, investment into R&D is ongoing and clinical vacancies are high, making it a great time to make your next career move.


If you’re looking for a new life sciences job, we can help. At Quanta, we’ve supplied recruitment support to the life sciences sector since 2002, with a global presence that means we can match candidates with roles all over the world. Find your next life sciences job now, or talk to us to see how we can help. 

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