The UK Government is backing a programme aimed at identifying and developing safety biomarkers – preclinical tools designed to predict the side effects of a drug before it is tested in humans – with an £8 million ($14m) grant budget.

The use of biomarkers could help companies identify compounds for elimination at an earlier stage - saving on costs of research, speeding up medicine development and contributing to a reduction in animal research.

Moreover, they could help avoid exposing patients to unexpected side effects in clinical trials, such as the multiple organ failure that caused six volunteers to be hospitalised earlier this month after receiving an antibody in a Phase I clinical trial.

The DTI fund will support collaborative projects from industrial and academic scientists with the aim of developing uniform standards for the identification and use of biomarkers.

ABPI Director of Science & Technology, Dr Philip Wright said: "The ABPI jointly developed this idea with the DTI and warmly welcomes the decision to put in this funding. This represents an opportunity to capture expertise in this very new science within the UK, while also contributing in the long term to patient safety."

The grant is part of an £80 million initiative unveiled by the Department of Trade and Industry yesterday.