A number of life sciences industry bodies1 have jointly published a report entitled "From vision to action: delivery of the strategy for UK life sciences". The strategy referred to is that published in the UK Government's December 2011 "Strategy for UK life sciences" (the "Strategy"). The Strategy outlined a vision for the UK to be a global leader in life sciences. The various initiatives contained within it have been developed in order to support the growth of industry in the UK and to support researchers, clinicians and ultimately patients through improved healthcare outcomes. This in turn is intended to provide the message to investors that the UK is open for business.

The report, published in January 2014, assesses the progress of the various initiatives that make up the Strategy, two years on. It contains information on the purpose of the various initiatives set out in the Strategy and comments on the degree to which these have been successful or require new impetus. It concludes with some suggestions about what needs to be done to ensure that the Strategy progresses.

Initiatives going well

The report concludes that the following initiatives have been progressing well:

The Biomedical Catalyst– this fund is jointly managed by the Medical Research Council and Technology Strategy Board and it provides grants matched with private funding to support medical research and innovation in the UK. So far, £125m has been committed to promote research projects. Further funding is now planned and additional money has been committed in the 2013 Spending Review.

Improved NHS management of clinical trials – the UK Government committed to re-launch a web-based UK Clinical Trials Gateway to provide patients with information about clinical trials. This was launched in December 2011, at the same time as the National Institute of Health Research introduced a 70-day benchmark, from receipt of an application to the recruitment of the first patient for trials, in new contracts with providers of NHS services. In the future, it has been suggested that the setting up and delivery of trials needs to be speeded up.

Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD) – this is the observational data and interventional research service for the NHS in England. The CPRD can link anonymised NHS clinical data with observational research beneficial to safeguarding health. The CPRD combines information from GPs and hospitals with disease registries and audits enabling medical research questions to be answered. The future intention is to include more GP practices and to build access to other relevant data sets.

Initiatives requiring improvement

The report records that progress on the following initiatives has been more disappointing:

NHS Innovation Scorecard – the aim of this initiative was to develop a scorecard that would allow NHS staff to monitor the organisation's progress in adopting innovative treatments and for patients to exercise choice about their service provider. It was also designed to follow the adoption of NICE Technology Appraisals at local level. The report states that the Scorecard currently falls short of the aims of the original commitment. It is suggested that the Scorecard needs to include more newly NICE appraised therapies in order to give a true picture of the NHS’s adoption of innovation.

Earlier Access to Medicines Scheme – this concept was developed jointly by industry and the MHRA. Its purpose is to enable patient access to selected medicines, up to a year before marketing authorisation, where there is a high unmet need. The scheme is on hold, pending the resolution of funding and access issues by the Government.

Specialised Services Commissioning Innovation Fund (SSCIF) – this fund is intended to enable the NHS to generate a better understanding of the cost and impact of innovations, and to assist in making commissioning decisions. However, the launch of the SSCIF has been suspended and the report states the hope of industry that this will be be reinstated within 18 months.

Other initiatives

Cell Therapy Catapult – this is one of seven innovation centres established and overseen by the Technology Strategy Board. Its purpose is to assist cell therapy organisations to translate early stage research into commercially viable therapies able to attract investment. The Catapult also aims to solve industry-wide challenges such as business models, logistics and reimbursement. The Catapult was established in 2012.

National Biologics Manufacturing Centre (NBMC) – this is a large-scale open access facility for the development of technologies for the manufacture of biological medicines. It is intended to increase the UK’s manufacturing capability in biologics and position it as the location of choice for life sciences companies. The NBMC is due to open in 2015.

Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) – the purpose of these networks is to promote collaboration between the NHS, academia and industry so that opportunities for innovation and best practice can be identified and adopted. 15 such AHSNs were established in 2013, but the report suggests that there has been some inconsistency in their effectiveness. In addition, greater clarity is said to be needed about their role and accountability.

NICE Implementation Collaborative (NIC) – NIC is a partnership between the NHS, life sciences and healthcare professional bodies, key health organisations and the public. It is intended to identify the barriers that exist to the implementation of NICE recommendations. The NIC was launched in 2012 and has begun pilot work in the areas of osteoporosis, stroke, diabetes and heart disease. However, the report states that the NIC needs to move beyond these individual work streams and enable wider improvement of the NHS’s adoption of innovation through the implementation of NICE Technology Appraisal guidance.

What else needs to be done

As seen above, whilst there has been progress on some Strategy initiatives, other policies covered by the Strategy have not been implemented as rapidly as intended, or with limited success. The report suggests that this is partly down to a lack of drive and accountability and calls for more leadership and focus in both the Government and the NHS, particularly at local the level. The report also suggests that better understanding of the challenges and needs of companies is essential. The way to achieve this is by recruiting people from outside government to help with information gathering, development of solutions and project delivery.

Whilst the initiatives set out in the Strategy got off to a good start, in some cases momentum has been lost along the way. This is a shame, because as the report recognises, in order to create a healthcare system that provides the best treatments, technology and academic research must be commercialised. It is essential to 'get it right' in order for the UK to remain at the pinnacle of scientific and medical advances for improving patient treatment. The report states that, whilst policies such as the Patent Box, R&D tax credit enhancements and tax reductions are recognised as having helped achieve this aim so far, much more needs to be done. The Strategy is an important part in this and hopefully the report will lead to a renewed focus on the initiatives from both Government and the NHS.