A new UK life science strategy launched by Prime Minister David Cameron aims to create a more favourable environment for industry in which the NHS and life science companies work ‘hand-in-glove’.
The strategy includes measures to improve the implementation of NICE guidance, funding to support early-stage research and plans to make more NHS patient data available for clinical trials.
Industry response has been enthusiastic, with the ABPI and the BIA welcoming the support given to medical research and start-up companies.
However, the plans to ‘open up’ patient data to the private sector have been widely criticised, with the Government accused of undermining patient confidentiality.
Cameron stated that the UK life science industries, which already generate £50 billion a year, can use the expertise of British universities and the rich data resources of the NHS to develop world-leading therapies.
But to achieve this, he argued, the NHS needs to share more patient data with industry and to implement innovative treatments more quickly. “The endgame is for the NHS to be working hand-in-glove with industry as the fastest adopter of new ideas in the world,” he said.
Measures to improve the implementation of NICE guidance include: automatic inclusion on formulary for recommended treatments; formation of a NICE Implementation Collaborative to support uptake; and publication of an ‘innovation scorecard’ to assess the success of guidance in practice.
Stephen Whitehead, Chief Executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, commented that the new proposals “will contribute towards patients receiving better treatments more quickly and build the UK’s attractiveness as a leading hub for medical and health research.
“Specifically, we welcome the introduction of a NICE compliance regime to reduce variation of medicines uptake, increase compliance with NICE technology appraisals, and ensure rapid and consistent implementation throughout the NHS,” he said.
Cameron also announced a new £180 million ‘catalyst fund’ to assist start-up companies in taking innovative medical ideas to the point where they are able to attract private investment.
Glyn Edwards, interim Chief Executive of the BioIndustry Association, praised this measure: “The BIA is very pleased to see the Prime Minister commit to a £180 million BioMedical Catalyst Fund; we look forward to seeing the details of this initiative, and how it will work to support innovative SMEs facing the ‘valley of death’ funding gap.”
However, Dr Glenn Crocker, Chief Executive of life science incubator BioCity Nottingham, noted that the funding would not stretch very far unless it was targeted specifically at early-stage trials.
A more controversial aspect of the strategy is the plan to make GP patient records available to private firms. The data would be anonymised, but the BMA has expressed concern that “large commercial companies” may be able to “search through records and identify patients in order to contact them”.
The Government’s new strategy for life sciences is closely allied to its plans for increased private sector involvement in the NHS – but also, for the first time, includes steps to improve the climate for life science SMEs and for medical innovation in the UK.