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Life at the end of the Brexit tunnel

A new proposal to maintain the UK as a benchmark of excellence in Life Sciences
Like the characters in Waiting for Godot, nobody knows what Brexit will bring; we only know we are waiting for it to come.  
Uncertainty and lack of preparation have been the defining characters of the Brexit debate, and these factors are the enemy of business and investment. We know that the EMA will be moving to mainland Europe, though we don't know the destination. We know that the pharmaceutical industry is lobbying for a seamless transition in which the post-Brexit world is as close as possible to the present. Everything else is a matter for speculation.  
It therefore came as a relief to hear on this morning's Today programme the announcement of proposals to bolster the UK's status as a world leader in life sciences. Sir John Bell outlined the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy, which includes £160 million of funding to support the health sector, including the NHS. This follows recommendations from pharma industry stakeholders including AstraZeneca, GSK, Johnson & Johnson and MSD.  
The Strategy also recommends the establishment of the Healthcare Advanced Research Program (HARP), through which industries, charities and the NHS will collaborate on ambitious UK-based projects to transform healthcare over the next 20 years.
In the shorter term, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has announced £14 million of funding to help bring new technologies to patients through the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). This will allow patients to benefit from new technologies to improve diagnosis and accelerate access to treatment.
As an example of this, Sir John Bell suggested that Artificial Intelligence could be combined with human brains to speed diagnosis of X rays. AI would sweat the small stuff (identifying routine X rays) while radiologists would focus on more complex or challenging diagnoses.
Sir John was more sanguine about the possible loss of human intelligence if foreign-born academics working in the life sciences lose their residency status in the UK. But the prospects for industry are brighter than many feared in the aftermath of Brexit.
The NHS was recently declared in a US report to be the most efficient health system in the world, while the US is near the bottom. This is a little like a Third World country winning a weight-loss competition; it isn't a strategic choice, it's doing what's necessary to survive with meagre resources. But if technology can get the NHS out of trouble, people in the health service and all supporting industries will be saying: bring it on.
The upbeat tone of the announcement was underpinned by the government's financial commitment to the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy, with £146 million for leading-edge healthcare, matched by more than £250 million of private funding from industry.
This investment will cover 5 major projects supporting advanced therapies:
  • A Medicines Manufacturing Innovation Centre to accelerate the adoption of emerging and novel manufacturing technologies
  • A Vaccines Development and Manufacturing Centre to develop vaccines for clinical trials and emergency epidemics
  • An Advanced Therapies Treatment Centre to develop cell and gene therapies
  • Expansion of the Cell and Gene Therapy Manufacturing Centre in Stevenage
  • R&D to support innovation at the manufacturing centres 
Government has increased investment in research and development over the next 4 years by £4.7 billion, with the first £1 billion available in 2017 to 2018. These figures have yet to pass the Hawking Test, where Jeremy Hunt's calculations are subject to proper scientific scrutiny by an actual academic. But in the brief interval before the Channel Tunnel is sealed up, there is a welcome light on the life science horizon.  

© 2017 Life Healthcare Communications

30th August 2017



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