London Calling 16 – Life Sciences could boost the UK’s Post-COVID Economic Sustainability

ISSN: 2736-6065

Blogpost by Cllr Rabina Khan, The Liberal Democrat Party

London Calling is the European Liberal Forum’s column aimed at bridging the Channel. 

The UK’s Government’s new science agency ARIA should be in the borough from where the European Medicine Agency departed – Canary Wharf in Tower Hamlets

1st March 2019 was a sad day for the staff employed by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which lowered and folded up the 28 national flags that embellished the foyer of the company’s headquarters in Canary Wharf, Tower Hamlets; the borough where I serve as a Liberal Democrat Councillor.

Along with the EMA’s departure went 900 jobs, 40,000 annual business visits and a budget of £215m. The EMA was established in 1995 to ensure the efficacy and safety of human and veterinary medicines across Europe’s 28 member states. London was chosen as its first home, partly because of the UK’s substantial pharma industry. In 2018, the pharmaceutical industry performed the most R&D in the UK – worth £4.5 billion, and had the second highest R&D-related employment. In 2020, the UK was third in Europe for pharmaceutical research and development spending.

The 100,000 Genomes Project, for example, has transformed the way in which genetics data is held and used. The UK is currently the only nation in the world to have a large scale, whole genome dataset, which will result in new genomic discovery, advancements in precision medicine and in healthcare globally.

Levelling up in Tower Hamlets

Following the trade deal announced on 24 December 2020, the UK will be able to participate in EU research programmes, which means “certainty for our scientists”. Currently, the life sciences sector contributes £17bn to the UK economy, with over 100 companies in Tower Hamlets employing more than 250 employees.

Since the EMA’s departure two years ago, I have been calling on the Government to invest in a life science research bureau in Tower Hamlets, which has been supported by the Liberal Democrats. Hosting the Advanced Research & Invention Agency (ARIA) would offer hope for our economic sustainability.  Building Back Better and Levelling up can start with the location of ARIA in our borough.

Sarah Olney MP, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Business and Industry, said: “The Government recently announced the launch of the Advanced Research & Invention Agency (ARIA), a new independent research body to fund high-risk, high-reward scientific research, which is part of a plan to cement the UK’s position as a global science superpower. Should ARIA plan for a physical location, then there is no better place for its HQ than Canary Wharf, Tower Hamlets.”

At a time of a public health crisis, the public and private sectors need to come together with proposals for a life sciences hub, as these partnerships will be crucial to delivering on the government’s vision of building a UK “Super Life Science Industry”.

In 2022, The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) will also relocate to eco-friendly headquarters in Canary Wharf. Established in 1991, the EBRD primarily invests in private banks and businesses, including new and existing companies and enterprises in 38 countries across three continents. This investment will boost these economies and promote environmentally sound and sustainable development.

Both ARIA and the EBRD will contribute to London and Britain’s post-pandemic economic recovery.

The Impact of COVID on Diverse communities 

A study by the University of Edinburgh found that people from Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani and other South Asian backgrounds were 20% more at risk of dying from coronavirus than white, black or other ethnic patients.  In a borough where 57% of children live in poverty, with high levels of health inequalities, overcrowding and intergeneration households – especially amongst diverse communities – there is a no quick fix to structural inequalities in areas like Tower Hamlets.

In a borough where communities have been hard hit by the pandemic and with reports that only 1 in 10 people and 14% of the population have been vaccinated, it can easily diminish the hopes for a brighter future.  This is why, so rightly, all politicians are united in the fight against Covid.

I know only too well how communities have been impacted, from delivering food parcels, providing emotional support, raising urgent casework, getting people to stay safe, preparing communities to observe faith events digitally, supporting families to say goodbye to loved ones through Zoom, helping families organise funerals, and encouraging testing and vaccination uptake.  I understand first-hand how debilitating COVID can be, as I am a long COVID sufferer.

People long for a new future, where they are not living under the cloud of a pandemic, are not struggling financially, are not suffering with their mental health and can live safe in the knowledge that a stronger UK economy offers greater opportunities for themselves and, most importantly, their children.

In the UK’s new world of COVID-19, Brexit and inequality, the investment into life sciences can provide hope for Britain’s economic, social, and green sustainability.  Barts Health NHS Trust has one of the richest databases in Europe because of the diversity of Tower Hamlets, which would be the perfect place for the UK’s new science research centre to be located and would replace the EMA.  It would bring in investment and boost the economy for companies, businesses, banks, the property sector, and residents.

And for London it would build a stronger partnership with Europe and across the world.

Rabina Khan is a British writer and Liberal Democrat Councillor and Special Advisor. Her latest book, “My Hair Is Pink Under This Veil,” will be released on 22nd April 2021.