Life Sciences & Health

Like the Netherlands, the UK is a world leader in life sciences and health (LSH). The sector is estimated to be worth £70 billion to the UK economy. In 2017, the UK government published its Life Sciences Industrial Strategy aimed at strengthening the sector. The first phase was launched in December 2017 with the pioneering Life Sciences Sector Deal. This partnership involves more than 25 organisations, including charities, universities and companies involved in biopharma, med-tech and diagnostics, working with the National Health Service (NHS). Its main objective is to make the UK the foremost global hub for medical innovation and biomedical and clinical research.

The UK is also in an excellent position in regard to private investment in LSH innovation. The Wellcome Trust, for example, is one of the world’s biggest private financiers of LSH innovation and research. Since 2017, it has consistently spent around £900 million a year for their core activities.

The UK and the Netherlands face similar challenges in several areas, including the following:


Just as in the Netherlands, the medical technology (MedTech) sector in the UK is an important, flourishing ecosystem of companies, researchers, academics, doctors and the NHS. Together they are working on new technologies and innovations, from the first stages of design and development to patient care. Fast-growing segments are medical imaging, in vitro diagnostics and drug delivery. There are around 2,850 companies active in the Core MedTech sector in the UK, 81% of which are small and medium-sized enterprises. The UK government website provides more information about business opportunities in MedTech in the UK.

Recently, there have been some key regulatory changes. All medical devices of all classes, IVDs and custom-made devices must be registered with The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) before being placed on the Great Britain (England, Wales, and Scotland) market. Medical devices with CE marking will continue to be recognised in Great Britain until 30 June 2023. The UKCA marking will be required thereafter.

Healthy Ageing

As the UK population is getting older, healthy ageing and longevity industries are gaining traction. For example, a recent industry study has found that one-in-four (24.8%) of the UK’s longevity companies now have Greater Manchester bases. UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is investing upto £98 million in healthy ageing innovations. Funding opportunities in this area can be accessed on their website.

Drug discovery/Pharma

The UK sets great store by promoting open innovation, and responsible use of and access to medical and genomic data. They are also looking for ways to increase patient involvement.  

Recently, in the biggest-ever single release of its kind, UK Biobank made whole genome sequence data from 200,000 participants available to approved researchers. This can potentially enable new drug discovery and development.


Population growth, in conjunction with a rising percentage of older people needing healthcare, is driving greater demand for hospital treatment. The UK government is investing in additional beds and encouraging the development of modern hospitals, where innovation in management and treatment should reduce costs and improve care.

Image: ©t

Regenerative medicine and oncology

For several years now, the UK has been implementing a national programme to stimulate innovation in regenerative medicine and oncology, based on a multidisciplinary approach. The UK is also looking closely at opportunities in genomics, created by data science. Prominent institutions such as the Francis Crick Institute, linked through its partners to the ecosystems of the major London universities, and the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult (which converts fundamental research into practical applications) are deeply involved in these fields, which, in turn, are closely linked with the well-developed NHS innovation partnerships.

Opportunities for Dutch companies

The UK is an attractive partner for cooperation because of its geographical proximity, and a similar culture and approach, focused on patients and society. It is also open to new relationships and contacts in regard to innovation. By investing now, Dutch entrepreneurs and knowledge institutions, together with their UK partners, could benefit from the major, anticipated investments in LSH innovation and the NHS.

NHS reorganisations and the growing market share taken by commercial care providers are creating more scope for providers and innovative products from outside the UK. In spite of existing national guidelines and framework contracts for the purchase of healthcare products and services, much purchasing is done by local NHS bodies, each of which has its own procedures and priorities.

London, Oxford and Cambridge are hubs for research and innovation. Developments are also taking place around Manchester, made even more interesting by the increasing regional autonomy in healthcare and other forms of care.  

How can the Embassy help you?

To help you find your way, the Netherlands Business Support Office (NBSO) in Manchester has written a report on opportunities in medical technology. It answers frequently asked questions and provides a starting point for companies who would like to get to know the market better. A summary of the report is available online. Please contact Els Steiger if you would like a copy of the full report or if you have specific questions about the sector. For further information on the MedTech regulatory landscape, please contact the Netherlands Business Support Office in Manchester to request a copy of the MedTech overview spreadsheet with details on MHRA and UKCA.

Marjolein Bouwers, the Chief Innovation Advisor at the Dutch Embassy in London, and the Netherlands Business Support Office in Manchester are closely monitoring developments in this sector. We will be pleased to advise you about opportunities for innovation and trade.