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 for trials.

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 (ABPI).

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 success."

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 and targets.

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 diseases."

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.


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