The UK’s Life Science Sector generates over £50 billion per year in turnover and accounts for 165,000 jobs. With growth of 9.8% per annum it is clear that the Life Sciences sector is of vital strategic significance to the UK economy.
In leading the global fight against rising epidemics of western lifestyle diseases such as cancer, dementia, and diabetes, which most of us are likely to be affected by at some point of our lives, it is also important to our wider wellbeing. ‘Health and Wealth’ go hand in hand.
The Prime Minister’s announcements on Monday set out a new strategy for UK Life Sciences which will help us capitalise on our world class Life Science base of talented and pioneering researchers and compete in this challenging global arena. The UK has been at the forefront of discovery for the past 40 years, but the sector is changing rapidly, putting new pressures on the pharmaceutical sector which requires strategic response.
One such change has been the speed of computing and breakthroughs in genomics. These are opening up untold opportunities, however the time and cost of developing new treatments is rising significantly and the traditional models of research and development, based around large scale establishments, are becoming unsustainable. The future is going to see more tailored medicines, much better targeted at specific patients whom we will be able to predict from their genetic blueprint will be particularly vulnerable to a certain disease. The challenge therefore is to put human clinical disease studies and patients back at the heart of medical discovery and to do this in the UK.
Similarly the current models of funding are under strain. Healthcare providers are looking for increasingly cost-effective solutions, yet we can’t avoid the fact that innovation often comes at a cost. Under current NHS practice, this means that uptake can too often be slow with the knock on effect that industry can often find it increasingly difficult to justify investing in the UK.
The industry has been calling for measures to aid the discovery, development and commercialisation of research; and that is what we have done. The global race is on to maintain the UK’s standing as a leader in medical diagnostics, bio-technology and pharmaceuticals and we need to make sure we become the natural choice for investment in Life Sciences, for the benefit of research, UK plc, and most importantly for our patients.
The core vision at the heart of the Prime Minister’s strategy is to provide an unrivalled ‘ecosystem’ that brings together business, researchers, clinicians and patients to translate discovery into clinical use for medical innovation within the NHS. Through a £180 million Catalyst Fund, a streamlined regulatory framework enabling quicker entry to the market for new discoveries, and a package of reforms to make it easier for industry, universities and hospitals to work together on clinical research, we will provide an environment and infrastructure that supports pioneering researchers and clinicians to bring their innovation to market earlier and more easily.
Most important will be the benefits for patients. Under these proposals NHS patients will find it easier to access the many benefits of being involved in research such as earlier access to innovative treatments and the opportunity to take part in clinical trials. We can stop the stories of cancer patients forced to fly overseas to take part in potentially life-saving trials and open up access to innovative treatments here in the UK.
Just as pharmaceutical research is increasingly driven by genomics, we need to encourage an approach whereby every NHS patient can be a research patient, contributing to the struggle to prevent disease in the next generation by the better use of data on disease and drug side effects to better design and target medicines. This is already happening in the field of Cancer Research, with one in six patients already involved in research. Looking into the genetic trends of drug responsiveness is key to cracking diseases like dementia, diabetes and cancer, and with the appropriate protections in place these measures can radically improve our chances.
The Conservatives are committed to re-energising the UK’s medical science sector. The announcements on Monday were an historic step to accelerate the integration between academics, clinicians and industry we need to deliver better health outcomes for patients. As a new MP with a fifteen year career supporting biomedical innovations I know it was an announcement that will make a real difference.
George Freeman is the MP for Mid Norfolk. In July 2011 he was appointed Adviser on Life Sciences to the Minister of State for Universities and Science, the Rt Hon David Willetts MP.