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Staying positive

Pharma must build on its successes in 2010 if it is to remain an asset in the goverment ledger

A hand crashing through a wall with its thumb upWhen the Chancellor of the Exchequer opens the books of UK plc after this year's General Election, we can be sure of a sharp intake of breath. The question remains: as he looks at the books, will a future Chancellor see the industry as a cost to the Exchequer, or a source of future profitable growth for UK plc?

The real progress we have made with the Office for Life Sciences (OLS) shows that senior ministers themselves see us in the positive column. At last week's Ministerial Industry Strategy meeting one said that patient benefit and industrial strength were two sides of the same coin. The Innovation Pass, the new engagement with NICE appraisals, the Innovation Fund and the UK Life Sciences "supercluster" are all examples of the government seeing our industry as a real driver of future growth.

The work that the ABPI has done – in close co-operation with our colleagues at the BIA, ABHI and BIVDA – with the OLS is beginning to turn government rhetoric into reality.

However, our challenge in 2010 will be no less pressing. The industry is a force for positive change and more productive care across the NHS has not yet reached all corners of the service. Likewise, while news that the NHS should think of itself as a part of the UK's economic engine is heard at the highest NHS level, it is not yet generally accepted by NHS staff.

Our contacts with the NHS should thus all be with the aim of helping them meet their tough financial goals and seeing our partnership as part of their contribution to the future of UK plc. If I were in the NHS' shoes I'd want to be seen as an economic contributor, not as an economic burden to the UK, whichever party is in power.

In reflection
Since this is to be the last of my regular PM columns, I hope you will allow me to reflect on what the ABPI's leadership on behalf of the industry has achieved over the last few years. We have negotiated a balanced PPRS, with an innovation package (in terms of uptake metrics and incentives, and horizon-scanning) and we have launched joint working projects across the UK – the number now in double figures – which has led to a joint working toolkit and guidance on the Code to ensure industry/NHS partnership is seen as in the interests of both parties and, most importantly, of patients.

We have made a real impact on the longstanding 'reputation' issue and, although there remain challenges, we have secured – via the Kennedy Review – the realisation that more than the cost per QALY should drive patient access to new medicines in England.

Following the Prime Ministerial Summit at the beginning of last year, we have developed a new urgency across government to make the UK more competitive. The long-awaited improvement in the clinical trial environment is beginning to come through in the latest NIHR metrics and inter-working between the ABPI, the Medical Research Council, the Technology Strategy Board and other research funders has developed a more cogent R&D strategy than ever before, one that will be powered by integrated information (whatever might happen to Connecting for Health). We are poised to lead in personalised or stratified medicines and have launched a new public/private company, Stem Cells for Safer Medicines.

Though some of these advances will most immediately benefit your R&D colleagues, do not underestimate their long-term impact on the market environment. We only have the quality of  government relationship we do because we are seen, and act, as partners in the UK's leadership in the life sciences, along with our colleagues in the devices and diagnostics areas.

Closer to home, we have reshaped the ABPI, focusing the agenda on VITA (Value, Innovation, Trust and Access), upgraded our team, energised much more engagement with our members and traded in our committees for real-time, urgent campaign teams.

As the year turns and we face 2010's challenges, it's important to reflect on all we have achieved together and continue towards achieving our shared goals.

Dr Richard Barker


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

To comment on this article, email

20th January 2010


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