New research clusters improve UK drug development capability
19 Jan 2011
Two UK initiatives are linking the pharmaceutical industry,
government-funded research and academia with the aim of reviving the
country's reputation as a centre for drug research.
The UK is facing intense competition from other countries,
particularly in Asia, that offer lower costs and faster set-up times
In 2009 the pharmaceutical sector delivered nearly £7 billion in
positive trade balance to the UK, making it the highest performing
sector of the British Economy.
The new Therapeutic Capability Clusters initiative seeks to help
speed drug development through closer collaboration between
academics, clinicians and the life sciences industry.
The second project is the Inflammation and Immunology Initiative,
a joint project between the government-funded Medical Research
Council and the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industries
UK government funding for life sciences research and development
projects has been spared from the deep cuts some had been expecting.
Many in the science community had feared the coalition's
comprehensive spending review would take an axe to funding. But the
government has said it wants the UK to "remain a world leader in
science and research" and will keep the science budget in cash terms
of 4.6 billion pounds a year by 2014-15.
Chancellor George Osborne said: "Britain is a world leader in
scientific research. And that is vital to our future economic
The clusters aim to pool resources from all sides, and help
increase patient access. Importantly, they will serve as a single
point of contact for industry to engage with, providing a
"commercial and cultural environment" to support research. The
initiative will be led by the government's Office for Strategic
Co-ordination of Health & Research.
The second project, the Inflammation and Immunology Initiative,
is based on Medical Research Council (MRC) plans to set up
consortiums in two pilot disease areas.
The £10 million initiative represents a new approach by the MRC,
bringing together academics and industry at the early planning
stages to develop a stratified approach to disease, what it calls
"targeting the right treatments to the right people".
This will include efforts to make clinical trials more effective
and efficient, as well as identifying novel biomarkers, mechanisms
Dr Richard Barker, director general of the ABPI is co-chair of
the Supercluster initiative with Professor Sir John Bell. Dr Barker
said: "The Therapeutic Capability Clusters initiative, born in our
work with the Office for Life Sciences, will create true comparative
advantage for the UK in translational medicine.
"This programme capitalises on our vibrant and economically
important life science sector, to attract increased inward
investment from the global pharmaceutical industry. We are also
delighted to partner with the MRC in tackling illnesses such as
inflammatory lung disease which causes thousands of premature deaths
every year. This is good news for the NHS [National Health Service]
patients of the future," added Dr Barker."
Nigel Gaymond, BioIndustry Association chief executive, said the
conference at the Royal Society of Medicine in London "demonstrates
the UK's exceptional strengths in R&D across industry, academia and
the health service."
He added: "There can be no doubt that the UK is one of the
world's key locations for life sciences. Indeed, the launch of the
Therapeutic Capability Clusters initiative is a prime example of how
the UK's strengths in academia and the NHS can be harnessed to
accelerate the development of medicines. This innovative approach to
clinical research has great potential for patients in an area of
unmet medical need."
Professor Sir John Bell, chairman of the Office for Strategic
Co-ordination of Health & Research, said: "I am excited that the
clusters will provide a real opportunity for the best researchers in
industry and the public sector to work together to gain insights
into clinical development that could help to raise the profile of UK
research, attract inward investment and help patients with chronic
The UCB Group is a major investor in the UK, and its chief
executive Roch Doliveux was also present at the meeting. He said:
"With UK universities being world leaders, UK-based biomedical
innovation has tremendous potential."
1. Association of British Pharmaceutical Industries. The
Pharmaceutical Industry's Contribution to the UK Economy and Beyond.
ABPI, London, 2010.