Earlier access to new medicines and automatic inclusion of NICE-recommended treatments onto local formularies are included in a package of measures announced by Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday, as part of the government's Life Sciences Strategy and NHS Chief Executive's Review of Innovation.

The industry strategy provides for investment of £360 million in the life sciences sector to support the discovery, development and commercialisation of research, including: - 

- an £180 million Biomedical Catalyst Fund which will nurture innovative technologies through the "valley of death" funding gap which exists between their development in the laboratory and the point at which they can attract investment from the market;

- £130 million for research into stratified medicines and mechanisms of disease, which will provide for collaborations between academia, industry and clinicians; and

- £50 million (£10 million a year over the next five years) for a new cell therapy innovation centre, based in London.

Key measures announced by the government aimed at improving treatment for patients include: 

-  a consultation by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) early next year on proposals for a new "early access scheme" which will aim to put new drugs and technologies into NHS hospitals more quickly, including those at an earlier stage than Phase III development when supported by suitable data, and particularly in areas where new treatments are urgently needed;

- the automatic adoption of all NICE technology appraisal recommendations into appropriate local formularies "in a planned way that supports safe and clinically appropriate practice," in order to avoid local duplication and delays in take-up; and

- introduction of a new NICE Implementation Collaborative (NIC) to support prompt implementation of the Institute's guidance and reduce variation across the NHS.

Commenting on the government's proposals, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) specifically welcomed the latter three initiatives, which “will contribute towards patients receiving better treatments, more quickly, and build the UK's attractiveness as a leading hub for medical and health research,” said ABPI chief executive Stephen Whitehead. 

And, if adopted, the recommendations of the innovation review "will mean much of the red tape and bureaucracy within the NHS which prevents patients receiving the very best of treatments, will be removed. Not only will patient health improve as a result, but removing the barriers to innovation will aid the long-term terms of the life sciences sector and the UK economy," he added.

Another of the government’s proposals is that the NHS Commissioning Board will accelerate NHS-wide adoption of high-impact technologies which have demonstrated clinical effectiveness, such as telehealth. This will be done in partnership with industry, using a new approach that will aim to deliver this technology across the country to improve three million lives over the next five years, it says, adding: "delivery on this industrial scale has not been attempted anywhere else and would put the NHS at the forefront of the management of chronic disease globally." 

Announcing the proposals, Mr Cameron pointed out that the industry is changing - "not just year by year but month by month" - and that to keep pace with what is happening "we've got to change radically, the way we innovate, the way we collaborate, the way we open up the NHS."

And NHS chief executive Sir David Nicholson said the review "represents a call to action for everyone in the NHS to make innovation a central priority."