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Action plan

Support for innovation and greater access to new medicines are features of the Life Sciences Blueprint

Dr Richard Barker, director general of the ABPIOn July 14, Lord Drayson launched the Life Sciences Blueprint, on which he and his team have been working for the past six months. It incorporated input from across the life sciences industry, gathered through a unique process of collaboration.

Where does it leave us? In pretty good shape, I think. Of course, we don't have everything we would have wanted, but the majority of the actions we called for are in there. What's more, it has been produced as a blueprint for action, not further talking and analysis. There is a set of measures to drive faster access for patients to new therapies, proposals to stimulate public and private sector collaboration in the new world of 'open innovation', new government money for SMEs and a commitment to complete consultation on a 'patent box' scheme in time for the Pre-Budget Report.

The Innovation Pass
The Innovation Pass is designed to enable innovative products that have a major impact on patients, but that have yet to collect NICE-acceptable evidence, to reach those patients without going through an initial NICE evaluation. There is more to be done to hammer down the criteria, but this has to be great news for patients and industry, as we bring forward more products for serious niche indications and NICE evaluation happens earlier and earlier. Since only a minority of new products will benefit from the Pass, making the NHS more innovative mustn't stop there.

Measures to stimulate Trusts to be more active and competitive in clinical trials and also to take up innovations more rapidly are all welcome, although the next few years will undoubtedly be a battle to get attention for innovation in the NHS as budgets come under severe pressure.

Britain's bioscience base remains a good reason for the industry to do business here, but global competition continues to mount, and not just from Asia and America. France's President Sarkozy recently called together leaders of both public and private sector research organisations and appealed for them to work together to forge a new era of French success in life sciences. As I said to Andy Burnham at his first meeting with industry as incoming Secretary of State, our vision has to be to create an integrated life sciences research community in which public, charity and private sector research combine to create UK leadership in a few areas of true global strength, with experimental medicine among them. We are entering a fascinating new era in which the interchange of products and people occurs between large and small companies and universities and research institutions, so that each plays its optimal part in making innovation happen.

The Blueprint builds on this idea. An active skills agenda ensures that first degrees in biology give students a strong start in the right disciplines and that some key post-graduate skills gaps for industry are filled. It also encourages the formation of collaborative networks in 'bioscience clusters' – groups of universities and research institutes with a real chance to be global magnets for the best researchers and for inward investment.

The overall investment environment is the subject of the third Office for Life Sciences (OLS) 'pillar'. Money is tight, but government has come up with £150m, which it hopes will be a catalyst for a new £1bn public/private investment fund for SMEs. They are also seriously investigating a 'patent box' tax concession aimed at keeping ownership and exploitation of the IP in Britain, when it is created here. This would emerge at the time of the Pre-Budget Report and could be a major fillip to UK manufacturing in the sector.

So is this the package to do the job, to restore UK competitiveness for the research-based industry? Well, it's certainly a big step in the right direction. Several major companies have shared their investment plans with government, along with the difference they feel the OLS Blueprint would make if it were fully implemented. Full implementation is critical. For example, clinical trials will not move back to the UK unless the NHS Trusts take their cue from these policy changes and prioritise research. Likewise, companies will not launch new products first here unless uptake is really invigorated by the OLS proposals. This interface with the NHS remains the most important determinant of success from both sides. We have the NHS more officially 'open for innovation' than ever before, thanks to the work of Lord Darzi, and unless we work very actively with it now, it will be financial forces that win out.

So let's welcome the work of the OLS. It has been an intense six months, with many from industry working above and beyond their normal roles to produce a package that can make a real difference. We have proved that the trade associations and companies across the sector – pharmaceuticals, biotech, devices and diagnostics – can work together to gain and keep the attention of government at the highest level. And we have also proved the point that, when it comes to shaping rapid change, a clear and influential point of leadership and accountability for cross-government action is an absolute must.

The Author
Dr Richard Barker is director general of The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry

12th August 2009

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