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UK industry welcomes life sciences reforms

Leading life sciences organisations say plans will increase research opportunities and speed access to drugs for patients

Leading UK life sciences organisation have come out in support of the coalition government's plans to overhaul the industry with a £180m investment.

The new measures include a Biomedical Catalyst Fund to support new drug development and an early-access scheme that will speed up patient access to experimental therapies on the NHS.

There are also plans to support the enrolment of NHS patients into industry-sponsored clinical trials and, more controversially, grant medical researchers access to anonymised patient records. 

Stephen Whitehead, CEO of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), welcomed the reform package, saying that Prime Minister David Cameron had identified the life sciences sector as an “integral” part of the country's economy.

Whitehead added: “The proposals outlined by Government will contribute towards patients receiving better treatments, more quickly and build the UK's attractiveness as a leading hub for medical and health research.”

He singled out for particular praise the introduction of a compliance regime in the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellent (NICE), which aims to reduce regional variation in medicine uptake and ensure greater implementation across the NHS.

The opening of public datasets was essential too, according to Whitehead.

He said: “This will allow life science firms to better understand how patients respond to particular treatments, which in turn will further aid companies' research and development efforts."

This aspect of the reforms has already faced strong criticism from the medical community, who have concerns about the opening up of anonymised patient records.

Although supportive of the increased focus on life sciences, doctor's organisation the British Medical Association (BMA) said there were worries patient confidentiality could be undermined.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, head of science and ethics at the BMA, said: “We are especially worried by recommendations that would grant researchers, possibly from large commercial companies rather than the patient's healthcare team, access to patient records. This could mean that details of an individual's health status and treatment will be revealed if researchers are able to search through records and identify patients in order to contact them.”

Biotech: 'more could be done'

There was qualified support for the government's plans, and their benefits for small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs), from UK biotech.

Glyn Edwards, interim CEO of the BioIndustry Association, welcomed the measures but said there was still an opportunity for more to be done, in particular to tackle the “valley of death” funding gap biotech companies face.

Edwards said: “We have been lobbying for the introduction of a Citizens Innovation Fund for example, a tax free retail investment product targeted at the general public, allowing up to £15,000 per person per annum to be invested in funds which are exclusively targeted at innovative SMEs."

The diagnostics industry also praised the government's commitments.

Doris-Ann Williams MBE, CEO of the British In Vitro Diagnostic Assoication (BIVDA) said: "For the diagnostics industry, this partnership will support how we innovate and continue to develop effective, accurate and efficient technology to improve outcomes for patients and save resources for the NHS.

“To make this happen, tangible and realistic proposals were needed - and we fully support the commitments announced today.”

6th December 2011

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