Government sets out plans to invest in medical research infrastructure

Posted on July 1, 2013 by

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Following last Wednesday’s spending round announcement when George Osborne unveiled plans to invest in UK infrastructure,  the Treasury has published an outline of its investment plan. It covers where the government believes it needs to invest to underpin the UK’s economic future, combining some previous announcements with new ones, including which areas of science will receive a share of the £1.1 billion it has committed to science infrastructure each year up to 2020. Regenerative medicine, dementia and genomics research are among the areas that the government will prioritise.

Background

In 2010, the government cut the science capital budget to £0.6 billion. Since then an additional £1.4 billion has been spent in one-off investments (the Campaign for Science and Engineering did a great analysis of these a while back here). The Treasury’s new investment plan document recaps some of the projects funded by the government since 2010:

  • The Crick Institute – the biomedical research centre funded by government, universities, the Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research UK
  • The creation of a large scale facility in Teeside for the development of biologic medicines (which it calls “Pharmavision” for some reason!)
  • Investment in Babraham and Harwell Research campuses (both of which host biomedical research as well as other things)
  • The development of the UK’s e-infrastructure in High Performance Computing to support research across the scientific disciplines
  • Plus lots of other non-medical research associated areas

The government has previously identified “Eight Great Technologies” that it believes the UK has a leading edge in and can build upon. This includes regenerative medicine and synthetic biology. These eight areas form the centre-piece of the government’s science strategy and are the guiding principles of the Treasury’s science spending plans.

So what’s new in this document?

This document covers all the major areas for public capital investment – houses and roads for example. It’s a collection of previously-announced initiatives but also a few new ones. Turn to pages 35-38 for the Science and Innovation section.

It begins with the government’s  ambition for partnership working with charities and industry.

A strong, well-planned scientific infrastructure base and continued public support provides opportunities for the UK to be at the cutting edge of scientific discovery and innovation. However, this will not be achieved by government investment alone, but through partnership with industry, universities and charities.

Areas for future spending

On Wednesday, George Osborne announced that capital spending on science will increase to £1.1 billion in the 2015-16 financial year, and committed to increasing this in line with inflation up until 2020-21. This will be invested in key projects covering the “Eight Great Technologies”, including three relevant to medical research:

  • Regenerative Medicine – clinical investigation centres that will site research facilities alongside patients  to speed up the development of stem cell therapies and other regenerative medicine (this could be an extension of the current Cell Catapult Centre based at Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Hospital or further ones elsewhere)
  • Synthetic Biology – investment in biological imaging technologies (we are representing charities in this area on the government’s Synthetic Biology Steering Council, which is guiding the implementation of the Synthetic Biology Roadmap)
  • Big Data – a new national network of Big Data institutes, including high performance computing (our ability to store, process and share data is really important for medical research)

The report goes on to say the money will also be invested in infrastructure within universities and spin-out incubator facilities. And that the Department of Health will be contributing £150 million (which I think makes up part of the £1.1 billion) to fund health research infrastructure in the areas of dementia, genomics and imaging. The government has published strategies on genomics and dementia in the past year or so.

The government is also investing an additional £185 million in resource funding for the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) in 2015-16 to support innovation, including expanding the number of Catapult Centres to areas including energy systems and stratified medicine, and continuing the Biomedical Catalyst (read the BIA’s guide to this here).

For a more in-depth analysis of the government’s capital spending plans I recommend the Campaign for Science and Engineering’s briefing.

What next?

The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee is currently conducting an inquiry into the UK’s scientific infrastructure. You can read our written evidence to the inquiry here. They are already taking oral evidence and could report the inquiry within a few months. They have also just published their report of the Regenerative Medicine inquiry they held last year, which could guide some of the government’s thinking on that area.

These are long-term plans set out by the government to develop UK infrastructure. We’ll continue to monitor their progress and explore opportunities for charities to work in partnership with government to support high quality science in the UK. So watch this space!

Posted in: Policy