The value of the pharmaceutical industry to the Scottish jobs market is enhanced by the fact that it offers high-skilled employment outwith the Central Belt
In the last five years, ABPI Scotland members delivered £258 million back to health boards across the country
Pharmaceuticals is one of Scotland’s key sectors, providing value in saving lives, driving research and creating jobs. Can this success story continue to grow in the face of strong global competition?
According to the latest available figures from the respected Fraser of Allander Institute, the pharmaceutical industry supports more than 5,000 jobs in Scotland, with every 100 jobs in the sector supporting a further 240 in the associated supply chain.
This importance to Scottish employment is illustrated by large manufacturing plants in Irvine and Montrose and also in supply, sales and research roles across the country.
Alison Culpan, director of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry in Scotland (ABPI Scotland), which represents global, research-based biopharma companies, explains that patients are paramount, and ABPI members work hard to deliver new, innovative treatments that benefit Scottish families.
While the number of jobs is significant, so too is the quality of employment offered.
She says: “In Scotland, the pharmaceutical industry is important as it supports highly skilled employment outwith the traditional economic hubs of Edinburgh and Glasgow.
“For example, North Ayrshire – an area that has suffered high unemployment – is one of our key areas with hundreds of well-paid jobs located there.
“This is the ‘inclusive growth’ Scottish Enterprise is keen to promote. Our industry supports rewarding jobs in a wide range of fields, from scientific research in our universities, through to sales, manufacturing and clinical trials.”
The 60 per cent increase in the number of people working in the industry between 2009 and 2018 is clear evidence of this – yet despite this hugely positive story, the industry still battles outdated images. Many don’t appreciate that the innovative medicines industry sets out to improve the lives of patients through investment in research and development leading to breakthroughs for health.
Pharmaceutical companies are committed to making these treatments available to all, which is possible in part through the little-known but very important Voluntary Pricing and Access Scheme (VPAS), the arrangement the government makes with the industry regarding the cost of medicines.
As leader of the industry body in Scotland, Culpan is well aware that VPAS is poorly understood, but maintains that it is vitally important to the NHS.
“Our members have an agreement to cap spending growth on branded medicines at 2 per cent, with anything over this paid back to the NHS. In Scotland, patients are fortunate as the Scottish Government has ring-fenced this money for spending on new medicines, to help bridge the cost of innovation.
“I can’t think of any other supplier to the NHS that rebates in this way. We are totally unique in that regard and it is a key difference between generic and branded medicines. In the last five years, ABPI Scotland members delivered £258 million back to health boards across the country.”
This considerable contribution has helped offset the cost of new precision therapies which are set to change healthcare altogether.
On the subject of how well-equipped the NHS and government are to deal with the changing profile of medicine, Culpan agrees it is a challenge but says it can be addressed through new pricing arrangements and collection of good data.
She explains: “Healthcare is changing very swiftly. In the future, every patient will have their genome sequenced, allowing for more accurate targeting of medicine and vaccines, but we have challenges now that need attention.
“New advanced therapies, which use your own cells to beat cancer, are becoming increasingly available. However, administering these products is complex from both a hospital and procurement perspective.
“There are also more medicines that can treat multiple indications, which is great news for patients, but creates difficulties for the NHS in assessing their value. We believe that the collection of patient data holds the key, and this is one area where the NHS needs to focus.”
Culpan wants NHS Scotland to reclaim its place as a world leader in patient data, which would allow patients to benefit from opportunities offered through AI (artificial intelligence) and real-world evidence.
She says: “In the past, it would have been impossible for pharmaceutical companies to collect real-world evidence, which is now supplied by patients through smart gadgets. We had to rely totally on clinical trials to assess how patients would respond to new medicines. Now our members want to know how well their medicines work for patients in the real world. This type of research offers Scotland a significant health and economic opportunity.”
ABPI is pursuing this agenda, responding to a recent report from EY which estimated that using patient data could be worth as much as £10 billion to the UK’s NHS. Despite this clear prize, Scotland risks falling behind other countries.
In Manchester, the devolved Health and Social Care Partnership has forged ahead with bold and ambitious data collaborations. According to ABPI Scotland, this should act as a wake-up call and its members are encouraging Holyrood to act on the recommendations of its own Data Scoping Taskforce.
The report, from Scotland’s former chief scientist, Professor Andrew Morris, made five key recommendations:
- The creation of a Medicines Intelligence Unit
- The improved recording of patient outcomes
- The capture of medicine use in all clinical settings
- The creation of a national laboratory data resource
- The inclusion of indications in all prescribing systems.
Culpan points to this report as a touchstone for the industry, and believes acting on these recommendations could see Scotland lead the world in data collection and outcome tracking.
She says: “The Scottish Government is working very hard to join the dots and link patient data sources together. However, if we can do this faster and action Prof Morris’ recommendations, then Scotland would be a go-to place for further pharmaceutical investment.
“This would result in potentially more clinical trials being placed here with the knock-on effect of Scottish patients receiving new therapies before anyone else.”
Culpan also insists that the more accurate collection of data would result in fewer medicines being wasted. The Scottish Parliament recently estimated that medicine wastage, mainly in primary care, could be as much as 50 per cent. ABPI members believe better data capture could help patients take their medicine more effectively, which would benefit patient health and allow the NHS to save money.
On what the future holds for the sector, Culpan points to a recent presentation from Sir Mike Ferguson from the University of Dundee, who identified an “investment gap” for embryonic university spin-outs. She believes it’s important to recognise the hurdles such ventures have in attracting investment and funding.
“I agree with Sir Mike Ferguson that there is a real need to create a ‘pre-seed’ Scotland-wide fund to support university innovation at an embryonic stage. This funding would allow scientists to conduct the ‘killer experiments’ that are required before small companies can attract venture capital funding.
“For a relatively modest sum, we have the chance to create high-growth spin-outs that could deliver upwards of £40m investment to Scotland annually and hundreds of worthwhile jobs.
“There’s no doubt that the prize for health and wealth exists – so let’s work together to achieve it.”
For more information visit www.abpi.org.uk