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Life sciences sector deal foresees greater collaboration between industry and the NHS

Greater collaboration between life sciences companies and the NHS is envisaged in a new 'life sciences sector deal' published by the UK government on Wednesday.07 Dec 2017

The deal (48-page / 7.32MB PDF) comprises commitments from the government and industry to invest in the sector in a bid to boost productivity. It forms part of the government's broader industrial strategy, which was published last month.

As part of the arrangements, the UK government has pledged to implement some of the recommendations contained in an industry-led life sciences strategy that it commissioned earlier this year, including establishing a new collaborative research programme that will bring together industry, charities, the NHS, universities and the government.

"The Health Advanced Research Programme will aim to put the UK at the forefront of work to address the global healthcare challenges of the next 20 years," the government said. "It will seize the opportunities in new technologies that will shape our world such as genomics and artificial intelligence (AI), and which will create new industries in the process."

"Working with industry, charities, the NHS and universities, the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund ‘data to early diagnostics and precision medicine’ programme will invest up to £210m to enhance the power of health data and technology to diagnose life-changing diseases at the earliest possible stage," it said.

Helen Cline, specialist in life sciences at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said the life sciences sector deal can set the UK up to be a global leader in the next phase of the industry's life cycle – an increasing focus on personalised and complex biological solutions to the world’s healthcare problems. She said the UK looks well placed to lead on the regulation of gene and cell therapies, tissue engineering and regenerative medicines, for example

Further plans to improve the environment for conducting clinical trials in the UK were also set out in the new sector deal.

"We will invest through the National Institute for Health Research in research infrastructure in the NHS," the government said. "New contracts worth more than £950m will start over the next five years."

"The Health Research Authority will speed up approvals for clinical trials and reduce the burden on NHS Trust R&D departments," it added.

The clinical trials plans will also be supported by other plans to help support greater sharing of data held by the NHS, the government said. The data sharing will be facilitated in line with standards stipulated by Dame Fiona Caldicott, the national data guardian in England.

"The success of these plans around data sharing will depend on an accelerated program of digitalisation within the NHS," Cline said.

The government also reiterated its recent promise to hike R&D spending to 2.4% of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2027. The increase, which the government said could increase R&D investment by £80 billion over 10 years, will begin with a £2.3bn investment in 2021/22. That would grow public R&D investment to £12.5bn in that year, it said.

A further £146 million of public funds will also be invested in two new national centres – the Medicines Manufacturing Innovation Centre and a Vaccines Development and Manufacturing Centre. This is part of the government's commitment to "support the growth of medicines manufacturing". The two new centres will complement the existing Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult, including its manufacturing centre, and the National Biologics Manufacturing Centre, it said,

"Together, these centres will make the UK a uniquely attractive location for developing technologies and investing in medicines manufacturing," the government said.

The government also restated earlier plans it set out, first to implement the Accelerated Access Review, which concerns a series of recommendations aimed at enabling pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers to get faster approval for the use of innovative new treatments and technologies on the NHS in England, and second to attract greater levels of investment in innovative UK businesses from pension funds.

The government said life sciences companies would "make increasing commitments to investing in the UK" to support the new sector deal. MSD, a subsidiary of pharmaceuticals giant Merck, as well as Novo Nordisk, are among the companies to have pledged to invest in new research centres in the UK.