This afternoon, David Cameron presented the Government’s strategy for life sciences at a conference in London, announcing a raft of new measures aimed at making the UK a much better place to invest in health and life sciences.
According to the Prime Minister, Government plans to give patients earlier access to promising new drugs, and to improve the way data can be used to stimulate new research. Let’s look at the speech’s key points.
Earlier access to drugs for patients
As previewed in The Sunday Times yesterday (£), the Prime Minister set out plans to reduce the time from a drug being developed to being available to patients. We strongly welcome the plans and think they’re great news for patients, as in some circumstances, it will mean drugs are made available sooner.
It takes around 20 years to get a drug from the early stages of development to patients. We believe that once we know that drugs are safe (after phase 1 trials), under strict supervision and initially for conditions where there are no other treatment options, it makes sense to bring drugs to patients quicker, in the hope that patients reap the benefits of promising new drugs sooner.
Why is this so important? Because many cancer patients find themselves in the devastating position of having no treatment options available to them – even though there are new drugs in the development pipeline that they might benefit from. We know that many patients in this situation would be willing to try new drugs that may help to treat their cancer.
This announcement will also be good news for the pharmaceutical industry, as it should create strong incentives for companies to develop drugs for smaller groups of patients, with the potential for an earlier return on their investment. This in turn, has the potential to encourage pharmaceutical companies to invest in the UK.
We want the Government to move quickly to take forward these proposals, and monitor their implementation, so patients gain maximum benefit.
Our chief executive, Dr Harpal Kumar, strongly welcomes the move. Here’s the comment he made to the media yesterday:
The proposed new early access scheme will offer real hope for thousands of people and will also provide a very strong incentive for companies of all sizes to develop new treatments for conditions where there is nothing currently available. We have encouraged the Government to think boldly in this area, and welcome this response.
Enhancing use of patient data in medical research
In his Autumn Statement last week, Chancellor George Osborne announced a number of measures that would improve the use of patient data in research, including the launch of a new secure Clinical Practice Research Datalink. This afternoon the Prime Minister built on these measures – namely a proposal to consult the public on how their data could be more routinely used in research.
At Cancer Research UK we hugely depend on patient data for our lifesaving research. Analysing patient’s records has helped us understand the causes of cancer, including how to prevent the disease and diagnose it at an earlier stage when treatment is more likely to be successful.
We have consistently highlighted the importance of making the NHS a world leader in research like this, as it will benefit patients and the public.
So we welcome government plans to consult on the use of patient data in carefully controlled research studies. Allowing patient data to be shared can be enormously beneficial to research but the process must be subject to strict safeguards. And the government must win public support if it is to simplify the regulatory environment so that it could benefit patients and researchers
As the largest fundraising medical research charity in the UK, Cancer Research UK has played a key role in discussions with the Government to feed into these announcements, ensuring that the priorities of cancer patients are heard.
We’ll be posting with another update looking in the proposals in more detail tomorrow. And we look forward to working further with stakeholders in the weeks and months to come to ensure that these measures become a reality.
Sarah Woolnough is Cancer Research UK’s director of policy