Cash won't cut red tape

June 25, 2004

Big cash increases for clinical research may not stop pharmaceutical companies leaving the country unless the Government acts to reduce the bureaucracy stifling research, senior scientists warned this week, writes Anna Fazackerley.

The science community is poised for an announcement about the Chancellor's ten-year investment plan for science, but the Government has already promised to ramp up spending on patient-based medical research.

In his budget speech in March, Gordon Brown revealed that medical research funding would rise from £1 billion to £1.2 billion by 2008.

This unexpected injection of funding has been greeted with excitement by the medical research community. But experts in the field warned this week that money alone will not be enough to make the UK a world leader in clinical research.

John Bell, regius professor of medicine at Oxford University, said: "The regulatory problem will be a showstopper for industry. They view the bureaucratic burden as pretty impenetrable, and there are lots of places in the world where they can do their research more efficiently."

At the 60th anniversary celebration of the first multi-centre clinical trial on June 22, Sir Iain Chalmers, an expert on evidence-based medicine, said that bureaucracy was so bad that "we may be witnessing the death of clinical trials".

According to Cancer Research UK, 44 new regulations have been introduced to control clinical research since 1995, and about 70 per cent of these have come from Europe.

Richard Sullivan, head of clinical research at CRUK, said that Europe was excessively cautious and the UK government must act to stem the flood of regulations from Brussels.

He said: "The way it works is, irrespective of the evidence, if they can dream up any possible harm then a directive must be created to deal with that. That is incredibly extreme and dangerous."

Lord Turnberg, vice-president of the Academy of Medical Sciences, warned that bureaucracy was making people cautious and that this was inhibiting research.

Lord Turnberg said: "It is all a bit fraught. There are ways through but, because it is so complex, individual researchers and research ethics committees are confused about what is allowable."

Sir Iain warned that many academics still viewed patient trials as an inferior form of research, and this would have an impact on the numbers of experienced clinical researchers.

He said: "The share-out of resources for biomedical research reflects a pecking order within academia: the smaller the things you study, the higher your status."

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