The UK's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency yesterday inked a deal with academia in a bid to put the issue of medicines safety higher up the agenda - and says the move will also help forge closer links between the UK's research-base and its regulator.

Medicines safety has been thrust into the limelight in recent times because of a number of high-profile drug withdrawals - including Merck & Co's painkiller Vioxx (rofecoxib) - as well as the growing spectre of counterfeit medicines.

The MHRA's initiative comes as the European Commission issued a new warning against the rise of fake drugs being sold through the internet, with 170 counterfeit medicines identified in illegal distribution channels over the past five years in the European Union Member States. In fact, the World Health Organisation estimates that 8% to 10% of the global medicine supply chain is counterfeit, reaching as high as 25% in some countries.

A spokesman for the MHRA told PharmaTimes World News that a meeting on Monday this week hosted representatives from a number of UK universities to debate specific areas of drug safety, including risk:benefit, public health issues, and medicines use in special patient populations, as well as to strengthen the ability to conduct pharmacovigilance.

He revealed that the MHRA has created a £250,000 pot for the first year to fund trials, which will be conducted independently of the pharmaceutical industry, and academia will now be asked to submit research applications as part of a formal peer-reviewed research initiative.

The spokesman envisages that the primary focus of these studies will be in older medicines, and stressed that the pharmaceutical industry will still be encouraged to conduct rigorous post-marketing testing of new compounds.

Chief Executive of the MHRA, Kent Woods, said: "There are important current challenges to be faced in pharmacoepidemiology and this joint initiative between the MHRA and academia will help tackle these. This is an important step to creating a network of researchers with experience in drug safety."