Bioscience leaders attack ministers' inaction

Lord Mandelson was attacked for not doing enough to support UK bioscience yesterday, including by the author of a Business Department-commissioned report on the sector.

A lack of investment has left bioscience in a perilous state, industry figures lined up to warn the Business Secretary at a briefing where he set out the Government's response to Sir David Cooksey's Bioscience 2015 report on the sector's future. The toughest criticism came from Sir David himself, who told the meeting that the Government's reaction to his findings was disappointing.

"When you strip away the veneer of this report, you find that there is very little new in it. It is disappointing," Sir David said. "We began discussing this issue in 2003 and in the six years since there has been lots of talking, but in terms of change, there has been relatively little."

Sir David argued that many companies are struggling to attract private-sector funding to pay for the process of bringing new drugs to market, and getting over the various regulatory hurdles. He called on the Treasury to discriminate in favour of the industry and to set aside specific pools of money for bioscience firms.

In response, Lord Mandelson described Sir David's suggestion as a "cute analysis", adding that such a move would alter a "30-year ethos of government".

The Government has adopted several of Sir David's proposals, including strategy to support the development of new drugs and to include "clinical research metrics" in the NHS Trusts' annual quality accounts. There was also praise for the Government in relation to the establishment of the Office for Life Sciences, headed by the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills' minister, Lord Drayson.

At times, however, the Business Secretary, who took notes throughout, seemed taken aback by the strength of feeling at the meeting. Clive Dix, the chairman of the BioIndustry Association, which partnered Sir David in publishing Bioscience 2015, said that "it was too late to be polite," while Susan Seale, the head of Imperial Innovations, which invests in early stage bioscience companies, said the Government was "missing a big opportunity" to get an "enormous amount of talented people into the growth sectors like biotech and clean technology".

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