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The five biggest challenges for life science projects

Blog posted by: Mark Rowland, 05 March 2020.


The Association for Project Management (APM) and Pharmaceutical Industry Project Management Group (PIPMG) life science event that took place earlier this year laid out some of the major challenges that the life sciences sector is facing. Attendees from across life sciences and Alissa Dhaliwal from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) discussed the current conditions of the sector and what it means for projects.

With big changes such as Brexit and the advent of new technologies, there is much for UK life sciences to navigate in the coming years. Here are the main ones:

  1. Rising global competition

Life sciences sub-sectors such as pharmaceuticals and biotech are increasingly multinational and competitive, particularly for research projects. Project managers in UK life sciences will need to be able to manage projects across borders and will have to work hard to keep the projects coming into the UK.

Thankfully, the UK has a strong reputation in life sciences, so it has a head start, says Dhaliwal. “We are strong contenders and it’s not an easy sector to make that kind of impact on.”

  1. Clinical trials

While the UK is strong in the sector in general, it falls behind a little when it comes to clinical trial projects. Clinical trials are an important factor in maintaining the UK’s position in life sciences, according to Dhaliwal. While in many sectors, a loosening of regulations would be expected to remain competitive, in life sciences, it’s important to maintain them. Regulations must align with regulations in the EU if the UK is going to bring clinical trial projects to its shores.

  1. A lag in R&D

The UK doesn’t spend enough on research and development projects across the board, and has set a target of 2.4 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) to be invested in research and development (R&D) by 2027. While this isn’t all life science sector-related, it is one of the strongest sectors for R&D for the UK – for projects to thrive in life sciences, that spend on R&D needs to be maintained or increased. This will also have a positive impact when it comes to global competition.

  1. The ageing population

Meeting the demands of an ageing population is the biggest and most demanding project that healthcare and life sciences face. “It’s definitely something we hear from our life sciences members as a key priority in terms of what they’re spending their research and development on,” says Dhaliwal.

While the ageing population will result in some challenging projects to meet the demand, it’s also an opportunity to drive innovation in the sector as new medicines and treatments will be necessary to treat diseases that will increase in prevalence as the population becomes older. There’s also a big opportunity for MedTech projects – one way to cope with the demand for medicines and treatments is to empower people to make early diagnoses and take preventative measures.

For more information on the challenges of the ageing population, read APM’s Projecting the Future challenge paper.

  1. Attracting talent

With the high global competition and increasing demand for new medical and pharmaceutical solutions, project teams in life sciences are becoming increasingly global. One project manager at the APM/PIPMG event said that he had staff in the UK and the Republic of Ireland, all paid from the offices in the UK. Another said he worked with teams across Europe and the Americas.

It means that project managers in life sciences need to be culturally sensitive and adaptable when it comes to people management. It also means that rules around payroll are clear. For larger companies such as big pharmaceutical firms, it should be easier to manage post-Brexit, but start-ups in the sector, particularly in fields such as biotech, may need to think outside the box in order to keep access to the right talent.

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About the Author

Mark Rowland is a senior writer on the Project editorial team. He has worked as a business journalist and editor for 15 years, and has won awards for his writing and editing. He has also worked in project and product management, overseeing the launch and continuous development of new websites and publications. Project is the official journal of the Association for Project Management (APM).


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