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The Life Sciences Industrial Strategy – what does it mean for cancer research?

31
Aug
2017

The outlook for medical research is looking positive this week as the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy is launched in the UK. Our Science Information and Policy Officer Dr Sam Dick considers his five highlights from the report and how these will benefit cancer research.

Posted on 31 August, 2017 by Dr Sam Dick

Dr Irene Chong looking down a microscope

Yesterday saw the unveiling of the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy, a road map for how the UK life sciences sector will work to drive economic growth as we prepare to leave the EU, and in the longer term.

The strategy, announced yesterday in Birmingham and written by Sir John Bell, is the first of a number of specialist reports to be unveiled as part of a wider industrial strategy being developed by the UK Government, and will have significant implications for medical research organisations like The Institute of Cancer Research, London.

Earlier in the year the ICR responded to the Industrial Strategy green paper (PDF, 271KB) with a number of comments and recommendations to ensure that the political and economic environment remains favourable for cancer research. I was looking forward to reading the report and reviewing its potential impact.

See our related news story that provides the ICR response to the publication of the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy.

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Five strategy highlights

Here are my five highlights from the strategy and their potential effects on the ICR and cancer research:

1. Increased funding for ‘blue skies’ research

With an increasing focus on translational research, which is essential for bringing new treatments and technologies to patients, it is easy to forget that all breakthroughs in cancer treatment stem from our increasing understanding of the fundamental biology of the disease through ‘blue skies’ or basic research.

The strategy recommends sustaining and increasing funding for basic science in the UK to match levels in equivalent countries such as Germany and the USA.

Basic research is a vital driver of innovation and provides the paradigm shifting discoveries that fuel translational research. It is therefore encouraging to see that the Government has recognised the importance of this work. However, this funding needs to be a long term commitment to prevent us falling behind in the future.

2. Commercialising scientific research

The report recommends creating a translational research fund to develop future drugs and devices for pre- and early clinical studies. The fund would allow development of early stage drugs and technologies to a stage where they would be more attractive to commercial investors with a lower financial risk.

This could lead to a proliferation of successful life science start-ups, which would not only grow the economy but increase the number of treatments being progressed to benefit patients.

The ICR is already a world leader in commercialising its research and will continue to expand on this as we move to develop The London Cancer Hub. The translational fund is likely to be of great benefit to development of a number of future cancer therapies at the ICR and institutes across the UK.

3. NHS collaboration

The NHS is at the centre of the strategy as it represents a significant resource for developing and testing future medical innovations as well as offering a huge bank of patient data.

The strategy suggests a significant role for the NHS in ensuring that innovative new treatments get to patients through implementing the Accelerated Access Review, a recently published process for speeding up patient access to innovative medical treatments. Our CEO Professor Paul Workman has previously blogged about this and its possible benefits for patients.

The strategy also suggests guidelines to ensure that the vast amounts of real world data that the NHS currently holds is available for use by researchers. With the increasing focus on Big Data this will be a valuable resource for driving future discoveries in cancer research.

4. Keeping research international

As a global institute, it is vital for the ICR to be able to attract talented people from all over the world – not only to ensure recruitment of the best staff but also to foster collaborations with leading researchers in other countries.

The vote to leave the EU has been a significant source of uncertainty in the scientific community and I am relieved to see that the report acknowledges the importance of global science, recommending that the Government establish a system for rapid recruitment and retention of highly skilled workers from around the world.

The report also cites strategic goals of attracting 2000 new discovery scientists as well as creating a programme to attract 100 top-class researchers to the UK over the next ten years, aiming to ensure the UK will continue to be an attractive location for international researchers.

5. Training the researchers of tomorrow

It is essential to train scientists with the relevant skills for the future in order for the UK to remain globally competitive. The emerging field of Big Data will also require a new generation of scientists with skills to adapt to rapidly changing technologies.

It is encouraging to see that the strategy includes apprenticeships in data sciences and digital health as well as funding for cross disciplinary sabbaticals and cross-sectoral partnerships and exchanges across industry and the NHS.

These recommendations will open up a wealth of opportunities for young people and early career researchers while ensuring the next generation have the relevant skills for innovative multidisciplinary research.

We work with a wide variety of industrial partners – from global pharmaceutical companies to local enterprises – to transform ideas into new products for the benefit of cancer patients.

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What happens next?

I was pleased to see that the strategy includes a number of recommendations that have the potential to benefit the ICR and the life sciences community. However, the report must now be presented to the Government as part of a sector deal process.

This will involve a series of discussions between the Government, industry and other stakeholders to discuss the practicalities of implementing the strategy.

It remains to be seen which of the recommendations will be implemented and how this will work in the future. As the sector deal is negotiated it will be important the scientific community continue to have a voice to ensure the best possible outcome for research in the UK.

If we can work together to make the strategy a reality it has the potential to speed up cancer research discoveries so they help people with cancer much sooner.

 

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