LONDON (Reuters) - Britain will promote use of new medicines and has earmarked 180 million pounds ($280 million) to bring modern technologies to market under a package of reforms designed to make the country more attractive to big pharmaceuticals companies.
Prime Minister David Cameron wants to use the funds to boost Britain’s 50 billion pound turnover life sciences industry, according to the text of a speech due to be delivered on Monday.
“The most crucial, fundamental thing we’re doing is opening up the NHS to new ideas. The end-game is for the NHS to be working hand-in-glove with industry as the fastest adopter of new ideas in the world, acting as a huge magnet to pull new innovations through, right along the food-chain - from the labs to the boardrooms to the hospital bed,” Cameron will say.
Drug companies have been complaining for years that Britain was often slow to adopt new medicines and use them in its state-funded NHS.
Science minister David Willetts told BBC radio: “Above all, there should be a very clear route from the idea in the publicly supported research lab, through to the application in the patient in the publicly-supported NHS. That is the way to get the businesses to grow for the future and, of course, it is the best thing for patients as well.”
Part of the support outlined by Cameron, dubbed the “Biomedical Catalyst fund”, will be open to universities and small and medium-sized enterprises, while an “early access scheme” will also be set up under which seriously ill patients could use new drugs up to a year before they are fully licensed.
“Patients are having to wait too long for new medicines because of the lengthy and extremely costly process for gaining full regulatory approval,” Richard Barker, director of the Centre for Accelerating Medical Innovations, said in an emailed comment in response to the government’s announcement.
“Health systems ultimately have to pay for these costs in the price of new products. It makes sense for the UK, with its research strengths, respected regulators and major life science investments, to take a lead.”
Part of the new plans will allow patient records and other NHS data to be shared with life sciences companies — a move some critics fear may compromise patient confidentiality.
But Cameron will argue that giving researchers from private sector companies access to NHS information will make it easier for them to develop and test new drugs and treatment.
Sarah Chan, deputy director of Manchester University’s institute for science, ethics and innovations, said worries about patient privacy were overdone.
“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...are perhaps overblown,” she said in an emailed comment. “As I understand it, the data that is to be released will be anonymized, and so cannot be used to target individual patients.”
Britain has been particularly reliant on pharmaceutical firms for success in manufacturing, the industry has been under pressure in recent years and forced to make cuts.
A decision by the world’s largest pharmaceutical company Pfizer in February to close its research and development site in Sandwich, southern England, with the loss of more than 2,000 jobs was a sign of Britain’s vulnerability.
Willetts said while the Pfizer move was “certainly a wake-up call for us”, the government was now working hard to secure investment by contract research organizations who could continue to use the site and its facilities for scientific research.
Investment returns from researching new drugs have fallen nearly 30 percent in the past year at the world’s 12 top pharmaceutical companies, highlighting the productivity dilemma facing the sector, according to a study by Deloitte and Thomson Reuters published last month.
Additional reporting Mohammed Abbas; Editing by Jane Merriman