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Government creates Office for Life Sciences

A new Office for Life Sciences has been created to address key issues affecting the pharmaceutical, medical biotech and devices sectors

A new Office for Life Sciences has been created to address key issues affecting the pharmaceutical, medical biotech and devices sectors.

As announced by the Prime Minister on January 27 at the Number 10 summit, a new Office for Life Sciences (OLS) has been created to address key issues affecting the pharmaceutical, medical biotech and devices sectors.

The OLS has been tasked with taking action to make a real difference to the operating environment for life sciences companies by the end of July 2009. This will be done by working across government, to address a range of key issues, including those raised in The Review and Refresh of Bioscience 2015, published by the Bioscience Innovation and Growth Team (BIGT). Carried out under the chairmanship of Sir David Cooksey, The Review and Refresh of Bioscience 2015 measures progress made against the original Bioscience 2015 vision and identifies new ideas and proposals that could promote the future competitiveness of the UK medical bioscience sector.

In addition, the OLS is responsible for delivering a joint industrial strategy this summer for the life sciences that will recognise the integrated nature of the various life sciences sectors and the need for improving cross-government policy.

Working with the various government departments that are responsible for these areas, the OLS will co-ordinate national policy, undertaking work to build a sustainable and integrated life sciences industry for the future. It will look at what steps can be taken to improve access to finance for SMEs and to stimulate investment in the life sciences industry. It will also consider how the NHS can be more effective as a champion of innovation, possible ways of getting medicines onto the market faster, how the UK can become a more attractive base for clinical trials, and effectively market the industry globally.

The OLS is led by Science and Innovation Minister Lord Drayson, and Lord Mandelson has pledged his commitment to working with both Lord Drayson and the Secretary of State for Health, Alan Johnson, on the subject of life sciences. Dr Robert Sullivan has been appointed director of the OLS, which forms part of the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS). Initially the OLS will by staffed by secondments from key departments within DIUS, such as the Department of Health, BERR and the Treasury, however a wider "virtual team" is being set up to bring together personnel from across the whole of Whitehall to ensure a joined up approach in the short-term and for the development of the joint strategy for this summer.

According to Lord Drayson: "This new office represents the government's commitment to safeguarding the future of our life sciences industry, creating an environment where everyone from large pharmaceuticals to small biotech and medical tech companies can prosper. The skills, expertise and intellectual property these businesses possess are extremely valuable to the future of this country."

Close ties to industry
In his speech to the Foundation for Science and Technology, Lord Drayson announced his determination to work with industries that are the engines for growth in the UK economy as it comes out of recession.

The government is working with the Association of British Healthcare Industries (ABHI), Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), the BioIndustry Association (BIA), the British In Vitro Diagnostics Association (BIVDA) and others, and encourages companies to get involved via their respective trade associations.

Peter Ellingworth, chief executive of the Association of British Healthcare Industries welcomes the government's urgent response to the problems facing the life sciences industries. According to Mr Ellingworth, "Medical devices and diagnostics have the potential to support the UK's drive for better health at better value, while creating a virtuous circle of economic development strongly rooted in high-value R&D-linked jobs." However, he stated that "rapid action is needed to make progress in improving uptake of medical technologies as well as with business-threatening issues such as the cost and shortage of capital, as well as late payment."

Richard Barker, Director General of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) commented that the ABPI too welcomed government's acknowledgement that life sciences is a key strategic sector and its commitment to creating an environment where the discovery of new medicines can prosper. "The UK is facing fierce competition from around the world. If it is to continue to be a leader, co-ordinated and swift action is required. The government needs to protect and build the UK's scientific talent base and do all it can to encourage the NHS to be a champion of innovation by speeding up access to new medicines and boosting clinical trials. The ABPI will be working closely with the OLS and the other trade associations involved to ensure the success of our joint mission to create a vibrant life sciences sector for the future," Dr Barker said.

6th April 2009


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