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Life Sciences Industrial Strategy: what it means and what comes next

Last year, the Government announced its intention to create an Industrial Strategy with ‘sector deals’ across leading areas of industry. The UK’s decision to exit the European Union was a driving factor in this new approach. The life sciences sector is one of those leading and important sectors of the UK economy, and today the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy has been published.

The development of the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy has been led by Sir John Bell and representatives from the pharmaceutical, biotech, devices, health data and digital sectors, along with AMRC and our members the Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research UK.

Giving a voice to medical research charities

Giving a voice to medical research charities in the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy has been AMRC’s ambition; we wanted the Strategy to recognise the vital contribution of charities to UK life sciences. As well as this recognition, we urged that the Strategy include ways to maximize the charity sector’s potential by collaborating with others so that patients and people living with disease reap the ultimate benefits. After all, medical research charities have invested over £11 billion in research in the UK since the sector started collecting data in 2008. And as well as investing in research, charities play crucial roles as innovators, collaborators and risk-takers who open-up early-stage research and spark further investment within the life sciences.

We have achieved recognition of the sector within the Strategy; medical research charities are clearly acknowledged and their contributions understood. During the development of the Strategy, one of the key recommendations we championed was enhancing the Charity Research Support Fund (CRSF) as a key means to protect the viability of charity investment in university research. We are pleased that the Strategy recommends that Government ensures the environment remains supportive of charitable contributions to the science base through enhancing the CRSF.

What does the strategy mean for medical research and charities?

The Strategy has considered ideas and actions that could strengthen the UK’s position as a world-leader in life sciences and the recommendations made in the strategy present potential opportunities for charities.

In December 2014, AMRC published our Essential Partnerships guide which highlighted the range of ways our members fund across the entire research landscape and at all stages of the research process. I said then that charities are increasingly looking to maximize their impact by developing partnerships that encourage the translation of research from bench to bedside. This is ever more the case today and this, combined with a patient-centric focus of charity funded research, is what can really bring charities and industry together, as both share the common goal of bringing new treatments to patients more quickly.

The publication of the Strategy presents a platform to capitalize on the potential of charity partnerships. 

Here are a few of the recommendations that might be of interest to you:

  • Discovery science: sustain and increase funding for basic science to match the UK’s international competition. This includes:
    • Government should ensure the environment remains supportive of charitable contributions through enhancing the Charity Research Support Fund.
  • Translational science: further improve UK clinical trial capabilities. This includes:
    • Design a translational fund to support the precommercial creation of clinically-useable molecules and devices to intervene and treat disease, which can then be explored in preclinical and early clinical studies.
    • Create a programme to continue to attract the world-leading scientists to the UK, working with charities and others.  
  • Establish a coalition of funders to create the Health Advanced Research Programme (HARP) to undertake large research infrastructure projects and high risk ‘moonshot programmes’, that will help create entirely new industries in healthcare. Potential opportunities identified include:
    • Genomics in medicine; creating a platform for developing effective diagnostics for early, asymptomatic chronic disease; digitisation and Artificial Intelligence to transform pathology and imaging; and healthy ageing.
  • Maximise the potential of data and digital tools to benefit patient care and advance research. Implement the Government’s recent commitment to take forward the recommendations in the National Data Guardian’s review of Data Security, Consent and Opt-outs.
    • The strategy also calls for national registries for therapy-area-specific data across the whole of the NHS in England, and that these should be created and aligned with the relevant charity. We are already seeing potential opportunities open up for members in this area.
  • To address the barriers to slow uptake of innovation in the NHS, the strategy calls for recommendations from the Accelerated Access Review (AAR) to be implemented, streamlining assessment of all new medicines; simplifying and accelerating access and using a single clear decision point.

Next comes the ‘sector deal’  

The next step for the Strategy is the development of a ‘sector deal’ – this will be negotiated with Government, industry and others. We expect that not all recommendations will form part of the sector deal.

Set against the backdrop of the UK’s decision to leave the EU, the publication of the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy comes at a pivotal time for the sector. The potential of patient data alongside the maturation of digital technologies, provides a real opportunity to harness the potential of the NHS as a true partner within the sector to achieve maximum patient benefit.

Moving into the sector deal phase, we hope Government will ensure that they draw on all partners across the breadth of the life sciences sector – including medical research charities – to ensure that opportunities are seized and the ambition to deliver transformative outcomes for patients is realised.