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7 Challenges for the UK’s Life Sciences Sector

For the UK Life Sciences sector, the challenges keep coming. How can the industry weather the global economic storm and turn challenges into opportunities for growth and development?

After the pandemic

COVID-19 put all aspects of life sciences in the glare of the spotlight, yet it also showed the sector in its best light. The performance of the industry during the pandemic showed its resilience, flexibility, and innovation. But it has also created huge expectations that the life science industry will continue to show those qualities that served it and its clients well during the pandemic and that it can meet future challenges head-on.

The current reality is that widespread economic turbulence allows life sciences little respite to recover from the pandemic and throws up new challenges for this and future years. To prosper the industry will need to continue to harness and expand its resources and be at the top of its game.

7 challenges for 2022 and beyond

  1. A shortage of talent: The lack of available talent for Life Sciences has, as with other sectors, been exacerbated by the pandemic. But it also comes at a time when the UK sector is continuing to grow and needs to hire more expertise to sustain that growth. Competition for skills and expertise is intense. Companies need to be constantly looking at ways to stand out to attract talent. This means focussing on creating a working environment and culture that looks not only at the benefits for new hires but provides opportunities for existing employees to grow and progress their careers as the organization grows. A strategy that delivers better staff retention will make the business a magnet for new talent.
  2. Increasing costs: We’re entering uncertain territory with restrictions on energy supplies. But it’s not just fuel prices that are rising. Labour and materials costs are also increasing with salary increases, inflation and disruptions to supply. Yet profit expectations continue to be high, while attempts to pass on costs will meet strong resistance from clients and consumers in the current crisis. The need to control costs will require efficiency savings and greater productivity. 
  3. Staff motivation: One of the key factors in attracting and retaining people in the life science industry is appealing to their core values. The pandemic highlighted the huge benefits for public health that the sector can bring. Making a difference on that level is a big motivator for people starting out in life sciences. Companies need to demonstrate that they are in a business that emphasizes concern for the planet and a commitment to the well-being of the environment as well as the well-being of its employees. A strong stance on ethical concerns and a commitment to values that transcend the purely financial will mark an organization out. That in turn will increase the attractiveness of the company to new talent and create a virtuous circle at its core leading to increased levels of performance and effectiveness.
  4. ESG: The need to have an ethical approach in the life sciences sector is at a corporate level too. Environment, social, and corporate governance issues are increasingly critical to a business’s reputation and its success. ESG needs to be on the radar of senior leadership teams. And it’s not just a matter of compliance with increased legislation and regulation on environmental, social, and governance matters. Stakeholders, shareholders, consumers, and the public are demanding, on the back of the pandemic, a shift in attitudes that businesses demonstrate a clear commitment to certain ethical standards and views. These need to be articulated in internal and external communications and incorporated into procedures, protocols, and standards. ESG measures should be actively called out in annual reports and market statements. A strong commitment to ESG boosts an organization’s reputation and can deliver a clear competitive advantage.
  5. Technology: Investment in tech and R&D needs to be increased to match the pace of development. This is particularly true of AI which promises to transform clinical processes and diagnosis and speed up the creation of new medications and treatments. AI will also have a huge impact on production with greater levels of automation and the development of smart factories.  Organizations should explore the availability of tax incentives and grants to increase investment in new technologies. They should also build on their use of technology to facilitate working during the pandemic. Increased digitization of work practices can result in further efficiencies, better practices, and cost savings.
  6. Supply chains: The pandemic caused huge disruption to supply chains especially just-in-time operations and the current geopolitical and economic environment is inflicting similar strain.  Digitization of supply chain management helps build resilience. Investment in domestic supplies shortens and strengthens the chain, boosts reliability, and helps control costs.  Shorter supply chains also improve the industry’s ESG credentials. But the need to compete globally and expand international operations puts pressure on businesses to extend supply chains potentially exposing them to future disruption. The digitalization of the management using IoT (Internet of Things) technology to track and trace products and fill gaps in real-time mitigates risks and reduces supply chain vulnerability and environmental impact.
  7. Leadership: Grappling with these challenges is a task for the senior leadership team which needs to be flexible, agile, and across all these areas. Increased digitization of work and processes can provide the data and data analytics tools to provide insights that inform leadership and business objectives and strategy. Establishing a leadership pipeline process will ensure that people are fully trained and prepared to join the senior team. Strong and empathetic leadership will set the standards that support and promote a healthy working culture that nurtures existing talent and attracts new people. Senior leaders need to drive the promotion of and commitment to ESG values. They will offer the vision for investment in new products, markets, and technology to drive the business forward.

The challenges the UK Life Sciences industry faces are likely to be there for some time to come. A joined-up strategy that allows flexibility and is backed by strong leadership from the top can put the industry ahead of its competitors. The challenges are great but so are the opportunities and as the pandemic has shown life sciences are well placed to respond to fundamental shifts in doing business by embracing innovation and developing talent.


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