The government has unveiled plans for a new UK Life Sciences Super Cluster that will see industry, academia and the National Health Service link hands to deliver new treatments for chronic diseases.

Central to the new scheme – the pilot of which is being supported by a £1 million investment from the government – is the birth of Therapeutic Capability Clusters, which, according to the Office of Life Sciences, will act as “one-stop shops for the UK’s top research” and thereby open up a new pathway for academia and the NHS to work with the industry on early stage medicines.

The first Super Cluster Pilot will launch later this year in the area of immunology and inflammation, focusing on diseases such as asthma and rheumatoid arthritis, and aside from delivering innovation to patients, the move is designed to embed a culture of research into the NHS and enable the UK to develop world-leading capabilities in translational medicine, to better compete on a global stage and attract inward investment.

The announcement came hand-in-hand with a report from the Office of Life Sciences on progress since its creation in January last year and in the first six months after the publication of its Life Sciences Blueprint, an ambitious strategy to transform the life sciences arena and secure the UK as a preferred destination for life sciences investment.

While the UK Life Sciences industry is - as the OLS points out - already “a world-leading, high-tech industry” that employs over 120,000 people and sinks at least £4.6 billion into R&D in the country, it is crucial that the UK “continues to offer a competitive environment for companies to do business in order to maintain current investment, and attract new investment, which will drive future growth and deliver patient benefit”.

According to its new report Life Sciences 2010, great strides have already been made with a number of new measures to help the UK maintain a competitive edge and thereby its attractiveness to investors, such as the launch of the Patent box and Innovation Pass initiatives.

The Patent Box will see the application of a 10% rate of corporation tax to patent-related income from April 2013 in order to strengthen incentives for investment in innovative activity and operation in the UK, and the Innovation Pass will give patients quicker access to certain licensed medicines before they are assessed by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, shortening the route from discovery to the clinic.

Other achievements include setting up the NHS Life Sciences Innovation Delivery Board to further tighten the relationship between industry and the health service and boost its uptake of innovative but cost-effective therapies and technologies, as well as the Industry and Higher Education Forum, created to equip university graduates with essential skills for life sciences careers.

“Our Life Sciences industry is exactly the type of high-tech, high-value industry where Britain has real strengths and the potential for growth in the future,” said Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills Lord Mandelson, commenting on its promise. “The Government has demonstrated that we are prepared to take real action to support Life Sciences and this is already having an impact on investment decisions, but this is just the beginning”, he added, and promised that it will “maintain this momentum and continue to build a thriving environment for UK Life Science”.

Positive response
The UK’s life sciences trade associations – the Association of British Healthcare Industries, Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, BioIndustry Association and the British In Vitro Diagnostics Association - say they are pleased with the “strong progress” in delivering actions in the Blueprint, and welcome Ministers’ commitment to fostering the partnership between the industry and government.

Life Sciences 2010 is a major milestone in the OLS initiative and demonstrates the potential of this new model of industry and government collaboration to deliver truly tangible results,” said Richard Barker, Director General of the ABPI. “Work to implement and extend this strategy must be a high priority for both government and industry in the coming years, to maintain the UK’s leadership role and the flow of life-changing, innovative therapies for patients,” he added.

And Science and Innovation Minister Lord Drayson said: “For life sciences to fulfil its vast economic promise, the NHS must be an engine for economic growth as well as providing the best healthcare free at the point of us” and noted “the OLS is helping to make that happen, but there is still a lot to do”.