Why Wales?: Incentives, population, data and lifestyle attract the life sciences

Why Wales? Incentives, population, data and lifestyle attract the life sciences

On its website, Business Wales proclaims the financial incentives and government assistance available to businesses that set up in the country. It’s a claim that has resonated through the healthcare and life sciences sectors, attracting organisations large and small, and encouraging local innovators to establish and grow within the country.

So just how large and progressive is the Wales-based life sciences and healthcare industry? Today, there are more than 300 life sciences companies in Wales, employing more than 11,000 people – and, importantly, the industry is still growing. If we broaden that employment to the healthcare sector, more than 90,000 people are employed by the NHS in Wales alone.

In terms of access to talented human resources, there are around 56,000 students studying courses in science at Wales-based universities and about 54% of all university places in Wales are in science-related courses. Certainly, there have long been incentives to set up in Wales, as well as grant-funded programmes. Additionally, there are centres of excellence and innovation hubs in the country, particularly around the leading universities in Swansea and Cardiff. For example, Wales Gene Park at Cardiff University School of Medicine supports and promotes genetic and genomic research across Wales and is helping to advance the government’s Genomics for Precision Medicine Strategy.

Lifestyle appeal

There are many reasons why companies choose to set up in Wales, beyond the financial incentives offered. Undoubtedly, there is the lower cost of living to consider, which makes establishing a business and employing people more affordable than in many parts of England. There is also the lifestyle to consider. In recent years, there has been a large rise in immigration to Wales as people seek a better work-life balance. From the coast to valleys and mountains, those of us who call Wales home understand the appeal. For us, there’s a term, “hiraeth”, which essentially means longing for Welsh culture, community, countryside, home, and defines a person’s love for the country. For example, despite being a small country, we have more than 150 beaches and three UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Population size and disease prevalence also make Wales a good place for life sciences businesses. With a population of just over 3 million people and just about every long-term condition known, there is rich data to draw upon. While there is a caveat with rare diseases, where having a smaller population makes it challenging to find the numbers needed for research, the fact that Wales has fairly static population makes it a good country for long-term data follow up.

Rich data and databases

There are also rich databases that assist with health-related questions. For example, the SAIL (Secure Anonymised Information Linkage) Databank covers a wealth of population-scaled data, some dating back more than 25 years. It includes anonymised data about the population in Wales and receives funding from a government initiative, Health and Care Research Wales. As such, SAIL captures an almost 360 view of a patient's journey through the healthcare system, allowing providers and researchers to follow outcomes to glean greater insights.

Furthermore, because NHS Wales has its own IT infrastructure, it’s possible to set up Wales-wide registries and capture that data for analysis. This is further helped by the fact that NHS Wales has a history of working with pharmaceutical companies and commercial companies to utilise data. Through Joint Working projects, NHS Wales collaborates with companies to pool skills, experience and resources to develop patient-centred projects. The goal of these projects is three-fold: to assist patients, the NHS and the pharmaceutical companies involved. An example is a Janssen UK, Welsh Government, NHS Wales and Myeloma UK partnership to co-create an All Wales Haematological Malignancy Data Solution. The objective is to capture real-world evidence to improve patient outcomes and enhance the healthcare environment.

The global clinical research company PRA Health Sciences has a large presence in Wales and has created many graduate level jobs at its Swansea facility.

The depth and breadth of the life sciences industry in Wales is perhaps surprising to many who aren’t aware of its reach, or, in many cases, even that there is a rich industry in Wales. As lifestyle becomes an increasingly important consideration for people, and as companies seek to deepen their knowledge and insights from captive populations – as is true with countries like Wales and Iceland – the industry’s reach and the opportunities that presents for people in Wales will go from strength to strength.