UK health blueprint puts focus on technology

Medical devices are to play a larger part in the UK government’s strategy for healthcare as part of the Office of Life Science Blueprint for the National Health Service (NHS).

Some advanced medicines are to be fast-tracked for limited periods of time to avoid delays caused by appraisals by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE). The so-called Innovation Pass will be trialled in 2010/2011 with a budget of £25m.

“The Innovation Pass allows the most innovative new medicines which target a small patient group like, for example, late-stage cancer, where that group is not big enough to generate the patient data, to enable a full NICE appraisal to be done,” claimed Lord Drayson, the science minister.

As part of the wider blueprint, the NHS will review the status of incentives, including the possibility of using a payment-by-results system, to try to increase the rate at which new medical technologies are adopted.

The government will also support a UK life sciences ‘supercluster’ that will coordinate work from across the industry. The government has told the Technology Strategy Board to improve its expertise in life sciences and the board will launch later this year an £18m fund for regenerative medicine.

The blueprint argues that life sciences plays a vital role in the British economy, “driving growth and prosperity as well as continuing improvements in healthcare delivery; and meeting challenges such as an ageing population and obesity”.

Part of the aim of the blueprint is to maintain and grow the UK’s position in medical technology. The pharmaceutical sector is currently the country’s leader in terms of R&D investment but those same companies are facing “a patent cliff”, a potential $140bn drop-off in sales, as some blockbuster drugs come off patent protection. “The pharmaceutical sector...must in any case look to new business models to replenish its pipeline,” the report says.

The blueprint positions the nation as a good destination for healthcare companies: “The NHS is a unique selling point for the UK, and has the potential to add significantly to the UK’s attractiveness as a base for life sciences, providing high-quality healthcare to all, and offering a competitive advantage with its vast patient databases for clinical trials and investigations.”

Following the unveiling of the blueprint, prime minister Gordon Brown and business secretary Lord Mandelson visited a number of schemes housed at Imperial College that could benefit from the proposals.

The prime minister got to grips with a rubber model of a heart as he visited a group working on advancements in minimal invasive surgery. Lord Mandelson and the Prime Minister then toured DNA Electronics, an Imperial College spin-out company that is working to develop a portable DNA testing kit.

Brown said: “This blueprint will ensure the life sciences and biotech sector continues to be one of Britain's leading industries.

“Harnessing innovation, speeding up access to cutting-edge medicines and technologies and creating high value jobs, the strategy will not only improve the health and wellbeing of patients, but drive economic growth too.”

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