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expert reaction to David Cameron’s speech on science and health research

The Prime Minister gave a speech which set out the challenges facing science and health research in the UK, and measures to overcome them.


Sharmilla Nebhrajani, Chief Executive of the Association of Medical Research Charities, said:

“Charities invest over £1bn each year into health research – that’s approximately a third of the total UK public investment. Today’s measures supporting the development of promising early stage drugs and making it easier for trials of new treatments to get off the ground will help to accelerate the clinical benefits of research and make each research pound donated by the public go further, improving healthcare for patients.

“NHS patient records are a valuable resource for health researchers and we welcome steps to develop the system, allowing researchers to access anonymous patient data safely and securely. Patients also recognise the value of their data and want to support research; in our recent survey 80% of the public told us they would like to consider allowing a researcher confidential access to their medical records. We need now to develop a system which is safe and secure so they can be confident in doing so.

“Charities are funded by the public and thus are a crucial part of the research ecosystem. They fund both basic scientific research and the development of new drugs and treatments of therapeutic value to patients and their carers. This really is the patient voice in research and the new Life Sciences Advisory Board should work with us to deliver a new system that works for patients and researchers.”


Professor Ray Hill, President of the British Pharmacological Society (BPS), said:

“The BPS applauds today’s announcement by the Prime Minister of measures to support drug discovery and development in the UK, and to restore our competitive advantage in this vital field.

“Pharmacologists, who are at the vanguard of drug discovery and development in the UK, and patients, from whom important anonymized clinical data may be sought, will both play a critical role in delivering success in this project, and it will be essential to seek input from these stakeholder groups going forward.

“BPS is also encouraged by the opportunities this stimulus package may present to our members, many whom work in this area and have been adversely affected by recent industry cutbacks. The news that job opportunities may be forthcoming for those with specialist skills in basic and clinical pharmacology is especially welcome.

“We strongly support the Prime Minister’s view that the coupling of economic incentives to encourage inward investment with unlocking the power of the NHS as an unparalleled resource for drug discovery is the way forward.”


Stephen Whitehead, CEO of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), said:

“Providing patients with earlier access to innovative new medicines benefits everyone: the industry will see a quicker return on investment, and with external pressures increasing and the international arena growing more competitive this is more important now than ever before; the UK economy will see increased investment from the pharmaceutical industry; the NHS will save money in the long term via such consequences as fewer hospital visits by patients; and finally, and most importantly, patients will gain faster access to the medicines they need.”


Imran Khan, director of The Campaign for Science and Engineering, said:

“It’s a good news day for UK science. The Prime Minister is right to recognise that, with the economy still in turmoil, now is not the time to shrink from the big challenges of the future – we have to invest in our strengths in the knowledge economy now, or risk becoming uncompetitive and irrelevant. So it’s particularly welcome that the Government is putting its money where its mouth is by setting aside nearly £200m to catalyse the commercialisation of biomedical research – it’s the kind of thing that we need to help create jobs and growth.

“It’s clearly a changing time for the pharma industry, but it’s vital that the UK is at the forefront of exploring the new models for research and development of new drugs. We have the combination of the NHS and world-class scientific research, so there’s every reason the UK should continue to be a world-beater in this field. The scale of the challenging facing industry is considerable, so political support has to be equal to that.

“The decisions announced today – if coupled with a renewed investment in the basic research that makes all this possible – will be a real investment for the future.”


Chris Mason, Chair of Regenerative Medicine Bioprocessing, University College of London, said:

“Aligning the needs of the NHS with the output of the UK’s world-class research laboratories is a win for patients and a win for scientists.

“The advanced therapies of the future, that could impact upon the lives of millions of patients and their families, will only be realised with joined-up action by academics, business people and clinicians. There is no alternative if the UK wants the best healthcare system, high value manufacturing jobs and wealth creation.

“Today’s announcement is a major step forward in mobilising the UK’s core life science capabilities across academia, industry and the NHS thus once again making the UK globally competitive for research, translation and commercialisation.”


Dr Mark Downs, Chief Executive of the Society of Biology, said:

“Better integrating the wealth of knowledge and information available through within the NHS is absolutely essential if we are to continue to lead the world in pharmaceutical research. We welcome the Prime Minister’s clear commitment to the life sciences through additional funding and the better regulation agenda.

“Patient confidentiality is critical. The Government has to put real effort into communicating the benefits of providing anonymous NHS patient data and then deliver on its promise. The UK’s national health system offers a unique opportunity to ensure more and better drugs are developed here in the UK, benefiting patients and the economy alike. Any data provided must be made available to all whether in the private or public sector.”


John Hardy, Professor of Neuroscience, University College London, said:

“It’s good that he is talking the talk. Really, though, the government needs to address the regulations which have burdened academia and the pharmaceutical industry. The human tissue act, all the animal regulations, especially concerning transgenic mice and the colossal amount of regulations and paperwork in clinical trials, all of these have had a chilling effect on research and more and more human and animal research has moved to less regulated environments. Big Pharma in the neuroscience industry has really left the UK, GSK to China, Pfizer and Merck to the US. It is good that the government is waking up to this, but 5 years ago would have been better and less regulation would be at least as useful as more money.”


Sir Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust, said:

“The Prime Minister has announced a comprehensive package of actions that together have the potential to transform healthcare innovation in the UK. We welcome the Government’s commitment to ensure that patients can benefit from the recent dramatic advances in scientific understanding, and academics, industry and the NHS must now work together to realise this vision.

“I am particularly delighted that the Government has listened to research charities and recognised the importance of allowing researchers to access patient information, with appropriate safeguards. A patient once said to me “giving my anonymous data is the most painless thing I can do to help others get better.” These proposals will allow many more willing patients to do exactly that, delivering a step-change in patient care and real improvements in the health of the population. The NHS Innovation Review is spot on when it says “the greater the number of patients involved in research, the wider the public benefit.””


Richard Barker, Director of the Centre for Accelerating Medical Innovations, said:

“Patients are having to wait too long for new medicines because of the lengthy and extremely costly process for gaining full regulatory approval. Health systems ultimately have to pay for these costs in the price of new products. As opinion grows across the world that the process can and must be reformed, it makes sense for the UK – with its research strengths, respected regulators and major life science investments – to take a lead.”


Dr Sarah Chan, deputy director of Manchester University’s Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovations, said:

“The wealth of data collected by the NHS represents a vast and potentially very valuable resource that could be used to facilitate highly beneficial research. The concerns over privacy and confidentiality that have been raised are perhaps overblown. As I understand it, the data that is to be released will be anonymised, and so cannot be used to target individual patients. Nevertheless, it is understandable that people have such fears, and careful, responsible oversight and governance will be necessary to allay these concerns.

“A far greater concern is the use of this data by private companies. One of the justifications for science, indeed some would say the most important justification, is that science is in the public good – it serves the public interest. There are many ways in which research based on collected health data could be of great benefit to the public, such as bringing new medicines to the clinic more quickly and helping us to understand the basic biology of human disease, but when science is driven by private interests and motivated by private gain, we have no assurance that it will produce the benefits that should lead us, the public, to support it.”


Professor Sir John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine at the University of Oxford, said:

“Historically, the UK has benefitted greatly from a strong pharmaceutical and a strong biotechnology industry. Both are under threat. The new Government Life Sciences Strategy, if implemented, will make the UK an excellent environment for small or mid-sized companies and will help engage the NHS in the programme to develop medicines more quickly. Ultimately, this will be better for both patients and economic growth.”


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