Industry groups have largely welcomed a varied package of measures laid out by the government's budget-linked Growth Review to boost the healthcare and life sciences sectors, reflecting its intention to keep a strong footing on the global stage.
An extension and simplification of the Research and Development (R&D) tax credit scheme "is particularly significant", as it will give many more small business a helping hand to get off the ground, while reform of the Enterprise Investment Scheme and Venture Capital Trusts schemes should also help to boost investment in bioscience companies, according to the BioIndustry Association.
Other initiatives that are hoped will paint a prettier picture of the UK as a life sciences destination include: new patent box legislation (by the autumn) cutting the rate or corporation tax to 10% for profits stemming from patents; the creation of a new cell therapy and advanced therapeutics Technology and Innovation Centre; and cash injections into new science facilities, such as £80 million to develop the national research campuses at Babraham, Daresbury and Norwich.
"This is an extremely significant day for our sector, enhancing the UK’s competitive position in life sciences through a wide variety of supportive measures," said BIA chief executive Nigel Gaymond, commenting on the plans.
The government has also pledged to simplify governance and regulation of medical research through the establishment of a single health research regulatory agency to pull together processes that are currently scattered across many organisations.
Cutting red tape
The idea is that this will reduce the regulatory burden on companies and, crucially, shorten the time to approval for clinical trials.
The UK’s share of global patient recruitment in clinical trials dropped from 6% in 2000 to 2% in 2006, reflecting the need to improve the ease and cost-effectiveness of carry out clinical research in the country.
As such, future funding to NHS service providers from the National Institute for Health Research will be conditional on hitting certain goals, including a 70-day benchmark to recruit first patients for trials, a condition of new contracts from autumn 2011, to help ignite progress in the area.
On a different note, the government has, somewhat controversially, announced plans to look into publishing anonymised data sets and aggregated prescription data linked right down to GP practice level. "Enabling access through a managed health research data service would support clinical innovation and strengthen evidence of effectiveness, improving health outcomes", it says, but there are fears over the potential effects of having such sensitive data in the public domain.
Elsewhere, a report by the NHS Chief Executive, in consultation with industry, academia and other interested parties, on accelerating the uptake of innovation - including new medicines - throughout the health service has been promised later in the year, and the government has committed an additional £10 million over the next two years on Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) competitions that address healthcare challenges, it said.
The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry has applauded the moves to "cut red tape and improve the process for clinical trials", which it says is "a significant step towards faster patient access to new medicines whilst also making the UK a more attractive place to do business".
The report on the adoption of new medicines in the NHS will be "a very promising step forward", and this, together with the package of measures around skills, IP, tax credits and breaks and the continuation of translational research partnerships, shows that Britain is a strong competitor and place to do business for our industry", it noted.
Recruitment expert Hays Pharma has also welcomed the new measures to support the pharmaceutical industry in the UK. Paul Strouts, Managing Director of Hays Pharma, said plans to reduce the amount of time to approve clinical trials are "a step in the right direction".
But he also stressed that future growth is also dependent "on addressing the skills shortages that we now face in the UK", and so it is "positive to see plans to invest £100 million in new science facilities given the lack of students emerging with key Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics skills".