UK aims to quadruple patients taking part in clinical trials

The aim is part of a plan to turn the UK into a "science superpower"

Margaret Keenan (C), 90, is applauded by staff as she returns to her ward after becoming the first person to receive the Pfizer-BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine at University Hospital in Coventry, central England, on December 8, 2020. - Britain on December 8 hailed a turning point in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, as it begins the biggest vaccination programme in the country's history with a new Covid-19 jab. (Photo by Jacob King / POOL / AFP)
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The UK aims to quadruple the number of clinical trial participants in the next four years as part of plans to turn the UK into a “science superpower”.

Unveiling a £650 million ($800 million) funding package for the UK's life sciences sector, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said the money will be used for a series of projects.

“Our Life Sciences sector employs over 280,000 people, makes £94 billion for the UK each year and produced the world's first Covid vaccine,” said Mr Hunt, who met with company bosses and industry figures at the UK's Life Science Council.

“These are businesses that are growing our economy while having much wider benefits for our health – and this multimillion pound investment will help them go even further.”

Up to £250 million has been committed to incentivising pension schemes investing in “promising” science and technology companies, while almost £50 million has also been pledged to prepare for future health emergencies.

Money has also been earmarked for the rail project linking Oxford and Cambridge, with £154 million set to go towards increasing the capacity of the UK's biological data bank.

£121 million, made up of new and existing funding, aims to speed up clinical trials and improve access to real-time data.

It is hoped the financial support will enable patients to obtain quicker access to new medicines and reverse a decline in clinical trial participants since the Covid pandemic.

There has been a reported 44 per cent drop in the number of people recruited to trials, from over 50,000 in 2017, to around 28,000 in 2021.

“It’s a very important part of the offer to life science companies that they don’t just do their research and development here, but they’re able to trial their drugs on human beings,” said Mr Hunt.

“The data you get from that is the most valuable of all.”

Health Secretary Steve Barclay said ministers were taking forward recommendations from an independent review by Lord O'Shaughnessy to “speed up the delivery of clinical trials and boost patient involvement in research, so people getting NHS care can benefit from cutting-edge treatments faster”.

The recommendations include the doubling of patient participation in clinical trials over the next two years, followed by a further doubling by 2027.

The government aims to achieve the target by offering “financial incentives” to GPs to encourage recruitment and via the NHS app, which will inform people about trials in their area.

Prof Charlotte Summers, an expert in intensive care medicine at the University of Cambridge, said: “The O'Shaughnessy review has captured many of the issues contributing to the decline in commercial clinical trial activity within the UK, and the government's commitment to implement the proposed recommendations is to be welcomed.

“If we are to become a science superpower, it is vital that we use this as opportunity to expand clinical trial activity in the UK, and that we do not implement these reforms in a manner that leads to decreased non-commercial research activity – our patients need both.”

Science and Technology Secretary Chloe Smith said that the funding delivers on the government's science and technology framework and represents a “double win” that will drive economic growth and support public health.

Downing Street insisted that new railway funding was a sign of its “ongoing commitment” to transport projects between the two university cities of Oxford and Cambridge.

“The cities of Oxford and Cambridge are renowned across the globe for their academic excellence – East-West Rail will be vital in allowing them to thrive for generations to come and help to grow the economy,” Transport Secretary Mark Harper said.

“With the potential to unlock £103bn of growth through new homes, businesses and job opportunities, this crucial line will also serve as a catalyst for development in one of Europe's most vibrant local economies while making travel quicker, cheaper and easier across the region.

Prof Andrew Morris, director of Health Data Research UK, said that the investment in infrastructure and the creation of new public-private partnerships were all “good news” for the sector.

Praising the two reviews, he said: “The one missing thing in today's announcements that would transform life science research in the UK is a positive conclusion to the talks for the UK to access the EU's Horizon research programme.

“Research today is built on team science with collaborations across the globe.

“Working alongside other top scientists in Europe benefits everyone and keeps all our research at the cutting edge, speeding benefits for patients and the public.”

Darius Hughes, Moderna's general manager for the UK, said the company welcomed “the recommendations in the independent review, all of which demonstrate a commitment to reinvigorate the UK's world-class reputation in clinical research that will bring benefits to patients.”

Updated: May 26, 2023, 11:06 AM