A new life sciences blueprint aiming to put innovation at the heart of the NHS and help support the UK life sciences sector has been launched by Lord Darzi and the Minister for Science and Innovation, Lord Drayson. The Blueprint can be accessed here.  

The Office for Life Sciences (OLS) unveiled this week an action plan which it hopes will inject new life into the pharma, biotech, medical devices and diagnostics industries which Lord Mandelson sees as key to the revival of the economy. The most headline-grabbing proposal has been that certain medicines be fast tracked, via an “Innovation Pass”, for time-limited use in the NHS, so by-passing the immediate scrutiny of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).  

Pharmaceutical companies are reluctant to launch new drugs in the UK at low cost because a large proportion of the global market is influenced by the UK price. However, under the OLS scheme, NICE would only appraise the drug after a certain period – three years – at which point pharma companies may be prepared to lower the price here. The fear, though, is that the proposals will undermine NICE by allowing into the NHS costly drugs which may offer little or no real health gain for patients.  

Ironically, it appears that NICE itself may be invited to help decide which drugs are sufficiently cutting-edge to warrant admission to the fast track. Initial indications are that targeted drugs like Herceptin, which are effective in individuals with a certain genetic make-up, but not others, will be likely candidates.  

The system is planned for launch with a pilot phase starting in 2010-11.