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UK pledges £181m for life sciences overhaul

Prime Minister David Cameron announces reforms to build relationship between industry and the NHS

UK Prime Minister David Cameron is to announce a £181m fund to support the country's life sciences sector in a speech later today.

The package of reforms is designed to support small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as well as academic institutions in their efforts to bring new discoveries through development and onto the market, and also accelerate the take-up of new medicines in the UK's NHS.

At the heart of the proposals is a desire to get the pharma industry working closer together with the NHS and other public institutions, with the Prime Minister expected to say: "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."

The new Biomedical Catalyst Fund sets aside £181m for new drug development, an early-access scheme for experimental therapies within the NHS, measures to boost the enrolment of NHS patients into industry-sponsored clinical trials and - controversially - granting medical researchers access to anonymised patient records.

There has been an immediate reaction to the latter proposals with patient advocacy groups expressing concern that they could undermine patient confidentiality, although the opposition Labour party has suggested they are not against the idea, at least in principle.

Last week, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: "Patients will benefit directly from our efforts to make health data transparent and easy to use by the medical research community."

In a recent interview with PMLiVE, CEO of the Association of the British Pharamceutical Industry (ABPI), Stephen Whitehead said that the pharma industry needs to build more effective partnerships with the NHS.

Action will also be taken to make sure that drugs which get the backing of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) are used in practice, overhauling the current system of locally-oriented prescribing formularies which can lead to differences in the availability of medicines across the country.

In the text for the speech released by Downing Street, the PM said "pressure on healthcare budgets in the West, emerging economies in the East, an ageing population, an explosion of knowledge - all creating a new paradigm for life sciences".

The life sciences sector has been a powerful industrial driver for the UK, with an annual turnover of £50bn, but needs to change in order to maintain its position within the global economy.

"My argument today is that … to keep pace with what's happening we've got to change radically - the way we innovate, the way we collaborate, the way we open up the NHS."

Also unveiled recently was a £158m investment in e-infrastructure to help support the UK's R&D base, including £43m for a new national supercomputer to support advanced research. An additional £24m has also been made available for high capacity data storage across UK's Research Councils.

5th December 2011

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