Health Secretary Alan Johnson has been appointed chairman of the government/drug industry body the Ministerial Industry Strategy Group (MISG), and Lord Mandelson – Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform – has become a full-time member of the panel.

The appointment of such senior political figures demonstrates “the government’s commitment to the [pharmaceutical] industry,” said a statement from Number 10. Also, from the third quarter of this year, the MISG will begin reporting directly to the Prime Minister Gordon Brown, it was announced on Tuesday (January 27).

The announcements were followed by a summit held at Number 10, attended by Mr Brown, Mr Johnson, Lord Mandelson and other Ministers, at which leading industry figures warned of threats to the UK’s status as a world leader in the discovery and development of new medicines.

Andrew Witty and David Brennan, chief executives of GlaxoSmithKline chief AstraZeneca respectively, were among the leading global industry figures who warned Ministers that, as it faces growing international competition from research centres opening up around the world, the industry in the UK is slowing and in danger of falling into decline.

“We need to redouble our efforts to stay in the research premier league,” said Richard Barker, director-general of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) which, with Number 10, organised the summit.

“There is an opportunity to turn the National Health Service (NHS) into a laboratory for healthcare innovation, but if that is to happen, the UK government needs to make the UK a more attractive place to discover medicines, make the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) a champion of innovation and speed up patients’ access to new medicines,” added Dr Barker.

The industry representatives made a number of recommendations to the Ministers aimed at protecting the UK science base, including:
- ensuring pioneering technologies are used to benefit NHS patients by boosting clinical trial participation by NHS Trusts:
- making sure new medicines reach the NHS quickly by empowering NICE to become a champion of innovation;
- setting firm goals to take the UK from bottom quartile of European countries for the uptake of new medicines to the top:
- identifying and addressing critical skills gaps, especially in higher education, to make the UK a future leader in the global knowledge economy, and
- implementing a favourable rate of taxation for intellectual property income to make the UK more viable for manufacturing investment.

- The MISG was set up following a conclusion in the March 2001 Report of the Pharmaceutical Industry Competitive Task Force (PICTF) which stated that a new high-level group should be established “to take the government/industry relationship forward to a strategic level.” At its December 2004 meeting, the MISG agreed that a process to develop a long-term strategy for medicines needed to be designed, “to secure the provision of safe and effective medicines for patients, maintain and strengthen the UK pharmaceuticals industry within Europe and to advance healthcare innovation with the NHS.”