What did today’s budget say about medical research?

Posted on March 21, 2012 by

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It’s budget day today. A few interesting bits from a medical research perspective including £100  million available for  co-investment with the private sector  to support new university research facilities, some targeted support for the commercialisation of research and an update on progress with the plan for growth which was announced at the 2011 budget and included a swathe of initiatives focused on supporting health and life sciences which are being implemented.

Background

The coalition government conducted a spending review in October 2010 where, in response to concerns from the science community, they froze the science budget at £4.6 billion annually. They also committed funding to the UK Centre for Medical Research & Innovation – later to become the Francis Crick Institute.

The 2011 Budget last March announced further measures to support health and life sciences in particular with a Plan for Growth which set out a series of targets the government planned to deliver.

The pre-budget report just before Christmas was closely followed by the launch of a Strategy for UK Life Sciences on 5 December 2011 which pulled together all the existing initiatives to support medical research and announced further plans including:

  • a £180 million Biomedical Catalyst Fund to support the development of promising early-stage drugs into new treatments
  • a consultation on a new early access scheme  where new treatments could potentially be given conditional authorisation, their assessment could be accelerated or it could even be licensed early – the aim being that drugs can be developed faster and patients can benefit from them sooner.
  • a new consultation on the use of patient records for research, exploring whether we should move to a system where anonymous data collected during a patient’s care in the NHS may be routinely used for research unless the patient has asked to opt out, with a goal of increasing the opportunities for patients to be involved in research.

and established a Life Sciences Advisory Board with two life science champions – John Bell and Chris Brinsmead – to drive this forward.

What was announced today?

George Osborne did make specific mention of  the life sciences sector and the value of medical research to the UK, announcing that he was making £100 million available for co-investment with the private sector to support new university research facilities:

We shouldn’t be shy about identifying our successful industries and reinforcing them.

Around one fifth of the world’s top 100 medicines originate from UK research.

So we’re backing our life sciences sector through creating the Francis Crick Institute at St Pancras and cutting taxes on patents to make this one of the most attractive places in the world to invent new medicines.

We’ve protected the science budget.

Now we’re committing £100m of support, alongside the private sector, for investment in major new university research facilities.

Detail of the new £100 million is here:

2.32 University research facilities – The Government will set up a new £100 million fund, including through additional provisions, to support investment in major new university research facilities. The fund will allocate its first bids in 2012–13 and will attract additional co-investment from the private sector. (37)

I’m not clear yet whether charities are included in the “private sector” and would be able to co-invest with the government in university research facilities.

UPDATE - hat tip to Annie at Wellcome – on the BIS website it confirms that the £100 million is aimed at leverage private sector or charity co-investment.

£100m University co-investment fund to encourage universities to leverage in private sector, or charity, co-investment in long-term research partnerships.

More on where the money has come from and how it will be allocated across the UK by the Higher Education Funding Council for England in this Research Fortnight article here.

George Osborne also confirmed measures he announced in the 2011 budget to support business investment in research and development in the UK and took these forward:

We’ve already increased the generosity of the R&D tax credit for smaller firms.

I confirm that from next year we will also introduce an “Above the Line” R&D tax credit that business organisations like the EEF, IOD and CBI have campaigned hard for.

And we will help new start up businesses recruit and retain talent – by more than doubling the Enterprise Management Incentive Scheme grant limit to £250,000 and easing the rules so that academics in our universities can turn great ideas into great companies.

The scheme mentioned here to support academics to spin-out ideas into commercial products that companies can develop and take to market is interesting – the government is planning to expand an existing scheme to support start-ups and academics employed by them. The detail is here:

improve and reform the Enterprise Management Incentive scheme (EMI), which
helps SMEs recruit and retain talent, by providing additional support to help start-ups access the scheme, consulting on amending restrictions that currently prevent the scheme being used by academics employed by start-ups, and more than doubling the individual grant limit to £250,000, subject to State aid approval;

The difficulties of commercialising research were flagged up by David Cameron in December when he referred to the “valley of death” where the development of promising drugs is stalled by lack of investment. The Commons Science & Technology Committee is currently looking in to how we can overcome this and improve commercialisation so drugs are developed and reach the market where they can be used to treat patients.

The budget today also included an update on implementation of the plan for growth – this was originally announced in the 2011 budget including a section focused on ‘health and life sciences’. In the pre-budget report before Christmas there was an update on progress and detail of how the growth plan was being expanded to cover more areas. The update on health and life sciences starts at page 37.

Reactions to the budget

With such a lot of activity already afoot to support medical research and the life sciences, including the big announcements included in the new Strategy for UK Life Sciences just before Christmas, we were not expecting a focus on medical research in today’s budget. The broader announcements supporting science, research and enterprise will impact on UK research as a whole and are important for medical research.

The Campaign for Science and Engineering, who speak for the whole science and engineering community, has responded to welcome the investment in capital and support for the commercialisation of research but voiced concerns that this may not be enough for UK science and engineering. They are calling for further investment to enable the UK to remain globally competitive.

They have also posted a response from David Willett’s to the budget which has a nice mention of the role of charities as members of the UK’s diverse science funding landscape while talking about the new £100 million for investment in university research facilities:

Industry and universities have a vital role to play in collaborating to achieve sustained growth in our economy.  We know from experience that targeted funding can be successful in attracting significant business investment to our university research base. As part of our drive in bringing together the business, charity and university sectors, this new £100 million investment could bring in upwards of £200 million additional private funding to help stimulate innovation and secure our high-tech future.

What next?

The initiatives announced before Christmas in the Strategy for UK Life Sciences are being taken forward. We’re expecting the Life Sciences Advisory Board to be established and a consultation on the Early Access Scheme to speed the development of new treatments for patients soon. (A full update on progress on the strategy was given in answer to Adam Afriyie at the end of February)

And as you can see in the update on the implementation of the plan for growth, huge progress has been made with the establishing of the Health Research Authority and the publication of plans to improve innovation and its uptake across the NHS –  Innovation, Health and Wealth.  These initiatives are now being put into action and we are engaging with the process and there is still work to be done – the streamlining of the regulation of clinical trials and revision of the EU Clinical Trials Directive is ongoing.

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