Life sciences strategy to strengthen links between universities, NHS and pharma

David Cameron is to announce a new government strategy developing links between university medical research, the NHS and the pharmaceutical industry.

December 5, 2011

In a speech in London today, the Prime Minister is expected to announce plans to make the UK’s life sciences sector a world leader, including £180 million to help bring new drugs and medical technologies to market through a “Biomedical Catalyst Fund” open to universities and small and medium-sized enterprises.

The move follows the announcement in February by drug firm Pfizer that it was to close it research and development centre in Sandwich, Kent – which raised concerns about the future of the UK pharmaceutical industry.

Mr Cameron is due to say that “yes, we've got a leading science base; yes, we've got four of the world’s top 10 universities; and yes, we have a National Health Service unlike any other.

“But my argument today is that these strengths alone are not enough, that to keep pace…we’ve got to change radically - the way we innovate, the way we collaborate, the way we open up the NHS.”

David Willetts, the universities and science minister, told the BBC that the government had a role to play “because there’s a lot of public money that goes to finance medical research and universities and of course, quite rightly, there a lot of public money that goes into the National Health Service. And we’ve also got excellent, independent private businesses.

“But what we haven’t done as well as we should have done in this country is link them all up, and that is what we are trying to do.”

Mr Willetts said there should be a “very clear route from the idea in the publicly-supported research lab through to the application to a patient in the publicly-supported NHS”.

He also said he wanted to bridge the “valley of death”, whereby strong research is concluded but is without “proof of concept” – leaving it on a “long shaky path to being commercialised”.

Mr Willetts said this left an “appalling rate of attrition” for research.

The government’s plans have caused some controversy, with critics arguing opening up NHS patient data to private firms could harm patient privacy.

Deregulation of clinical trials by companies in hospitals is another element of the strategy, it has been reported.

john.morgan@tsleducation.com

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