In the aftermath of last year’s inconclusive General Election — and the subsequent emergence of the Coalition Government — you’d have been forgiven for thinking that ‘deficit reduction’ was the only buzzword in town. ‘Growth’, opposing politicians charged, was seemingly absent from the government’s fiscal vocabulary. In a more recent example of bad news for the government, earlier this week the Office for National Statistics (ONS) halved its earlier estimate for second quarter UK growth to 0.1%. Subsequently, and as David Cameron addressed the Conservative Party Conference this week, some commentators took the pragmatic tone of his words as evidence of a waning commitment to a growth strategy per se. The Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, seized on the opportunity with glee.
However, a recent announcement in the field of early-stage medical research tells a different story entirely. Not necessarily of a government that is in a position to inject marked amounts of capital into the system, but perhaps of an administration that is now making serious moves to cut red tape and to get the UK clinical research sector back to its historical heights of success. Indeed, when the government launched its ‘Plan For Growth’ agenda back in March, the healthcare and the life sciences were singled out specifically for their capacity to bring sustained future growth to the UK economy.
Suitably then, in a new scheme launched by the government earlier this week, pharmaceutical companies conducting early-stage health research will gain easier, more streamlined access to a myriad of leading academic researchers, across both NHS hospitals and some of the country’s top universities. Not only does the government hope that this will stimulate additional collaboration between the private and public sectors, but critically, that it will speed up the process of clinical trials significantly.
Specifically, the first two of these National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) partnerships, launched on Wednesday, will focus on inflammatory respiratory diseases like asthma and joint-related inflammatory diseases like arthritis. And where pharmaceutical companies have previously been forced to forge agreements with each individual NHS Trust and University, the new rules will require only one legal instrument to cover all points of collaboration. Ultimately, the government hopes the scheme will provide a tangible stimulus to the UK’s now declining role in the development of new and innovative medicines and a third partnership is now reportedly under discussion. The government itself will be providing an initial £1.3 million to the partnership to assist with start-up costs.
Importantly, these new partnerships follow the announcement of a similar plan back in August, in which the government announced funding arrangements worth £800m in a bid to improve NHS research on the treatment of patients with cancer, dementia, heart disease and diabetes. Taken collectively, the government will hope that these measures will produce a substantial net benefit to the UK economy, by attracting additional foreign investment from the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies.
The government’s chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, heralded the partnership as “another key piece in the jigsaw”, adding that ““NIHR translational research partnerships bring together this country’s leading clinical academic investigators to work in true partnership with industry in early phase research”.
Whereas Lord Howe, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State within the Department of Health, has referred to the scheme as: “a perfect example of how the government is creating the right environment for life sciences industries”.
Initial reaction from the private sector has also been predictably positive, reflecting a growing desire amongst shareholders that pharmaceutical firms improve the efficiency of their innovation by diversifying into less conventional, and more collaborative channels of research. Edward Hodgkin, CEO of Biotica, commented that: “Genuine collaboration with translational research experts in universities and the NHS is very important to biotechnology companies like Biotica. Translational Research Partnerships offer a new and exciting route for this happen. Specifically, Hodgkin stressed the benefits of working with some of the UK’s leading researchers, in addition to his confidence that “any collaboration will be supported in a streamlined and efficient way”.
Last updated on: 10/10/2011 14:20:29