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Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

The Biomedical Bubble

This report sets out why and how the UK needs to escape the biomedical bubble if it is to realise the economic, social and health potential of new investment in research and development.

Introduction by Kirsten Bound, Executive Director of Research, Analysis and Policy at Nesta

Biomedical science and innovation has benefited from significant increases in public investment over the past fifteen years. This builds on the remarkable strengths of the UK’s academic life sciences base and pharmaceutical industry.

But continuing to prioritise the biomedical, in a period when government aims to boost research and development (R&D) spending to 2.4% of GDP, risks unbalancing our innovation system, and is unlikely to deliver the economic benefits or improvements to health outcomes that society expects.

For too long, the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sectors have dominated policy thinking about translating research, but these sectors are in deep trouble, with R&D productivity plummeting and R&D investment falling. Meanwhile, much of the wider innovation needed for the NHS, public health and social care has been under-resourced.

Greater emphasis needs to be given to the social, environmental, digital and behavioural determinants of health, and decisions about research priorities need to involve a greater diversity of perspectives, drawn from across the country.

The creation of UK Research and Innovation, which aims to bring a more strategic approach to funding and prioritisation, is the right moment to rethink this balance.


Richard Jones

Richard Jones is Professor of Physics at the University of Sheffield.

James Wilsdon

James Wilsdon is Professor of Research Policy and Director of Research and Innovation in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Sheffield.