PM to unveil radical NHS initiative


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The Independent Online

Prime Minister David Cameron will tomorrow unveil a radical new life science strategy designed to bring industrialists, scientists and the NHS together to come up with the next generation of drug and medical technology.

Mr Cameron is due to outline the new measures at a Financial Times conference entitled "Rethink the Life Sciences Value Equation". The new strategy is aimed at boosting the UK's £50bn life science industry, giving the edge to British companies to compete worldwide, as well as improving the nation's health.

In a big shift of policy, he will also reveal that the NHS's patient data base will be opened up to medical research for the first time. The UK's pharmaceuticals industry is dominated by big companies such as AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline, but it is the 4,500 small companies specialising in the life sciences that stand to benefit most.

One source said: "This new policy will open up the NHS to become a hotbed of innovation. This is translational medicine at its most powerful. In the future, we can develop the right drug for the right person at the right time."

Downing Street sources said the new life science and healthcare strategy had been developed against a background of huge changes to the old "big pharma" industry model as well as the need for the UK to regain its leading edge in life science innovation. He said: "Most big pharma companies can no longer afford, or have the means to create new blockbuster drugs which often take billions of pounds to develop and decades to bring to market." He added that medical innovation is now so advanced that it is no longer the case that all drugs work for the same patients, but need to be designed based on people's genetics as well as their lifestyle.

The coalition's new strategy is the result of two reports, which will also be published today – one by the NHS chief executive, Sir David Nicholson, called NHS Innovation, the other from work carried out by Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, David Willetts, the Universities and Science minister and George Freeman MP, an adviser on life sciences.

Opening up the massive data store of the NHS – with patient permission – to scientists is considered a critical step forward for the development of new drugs and devices in what is called "translational" medicine. Among the measures being announced by the PM is for a new translational fund that will give grants to physicians and scientists at the early stage of their innovations – often the most difficult time to raise money.

The new strategy evolved from the closure of the UK operations in Sandwich, Kent, of th US drugs giant Pfizer, earlier this year which saw the loss of around 2,000 jobs, prompting the Government to review the industry.

Mr Freeman added: "The impending patent cliff, productivity crisis and breakdown of the 'one size fits all' model of pharmaceutical drug discovery is driving an urgent search for new ways of discovering and developing medicines. It's unsustainable to continue to spend on average nearly 10 years and €1bn to discover drugs aren't effective or safe in every single patient. That's why the idea of 'targeted therapeutics' needs to come into the process at the beginning. By harnessing our unique NHS, together with our scientific and industrial strength, the UK can regain out pre-eminence in pharmaceuticals and the new digital healthcare of tomorrow."