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New UK body to fast-track breakthrough research

Published on 08/12/06 at 11:31am

Faster approval of NHS clinical trials and NICE recommendations are almost certain following a fundamental shake-up in the way UK medical research is run.

The measures follow Sir David Cooksey's wide-ranging review of publicly funded health research in the country.

One of the review's key recommendations was that a new body be set up to promote joined-up thinking in UK research.

Chancellor Gordon Brown confirmed the body - named the Office for Strategic Coordination of Health Research (OSCHR) - would control a pooled budget of more than £1 billion and lead a new fast-track procedure for priority research.

In his pre-Budget speech he said: "We are determined that Britain be a world-class location for future medical research, including stem cell. So that Britain leads the world in developing new treatments and new drugs, we will bring together the research capability of our universities, institutes and pharmaceutical companies with the unique resources of the NHS."

President of the Academy of Medical Sciences Professor John Bell will head up the OSCHR, which will act as an umbrella organisation to help medical institutes, universities and the pharma industry work more closely with the NHS.

The new organisation will also create UK Priority Health Research Projects, with the power of fast-tracking public health research that shows real promise in tackling unmet health needs.

"This might, ideally, include faster approval for clinical trials in the NHS, and an expedited route through NICE approval," the Cooksey Review said.

Chancellor Gordon Brown's decision to bring together Britain's £1 billion public health research budget under one roof has been heralded as a revolution by the pharma industry.

Aisling Burnand, chief executive of the BioIndustry Association (BIA), said adoption of the Cooksey review could revolutionise biotech development.

She said:  "This review will play a crucial role in the debate on how we provide medicines and therapies to patients."

Burnand added: "The stakes are high. The challenges facing medical research have never been greater. What is needed now is action. It is important that the recommendations are implemented swiftly and that sufficient funding is provided to enable this."

Richard Barker, ABPI director, warned that if the UK was to retain its global position in pharma R&D, it would have to improve its scientific research base, its capabilities to conduct clinical trials and its adoption of new technologies.

"As the government responds to this review, it has the opportunity to give a real shot in the arm to UK bioscience and the ability of the public and private sector to work together to bring new medicines more rapidly to patients, " he said.

The OSCHR will report jointly to the departments of health and trade and industry and allow input from the devolved health departments in Scotland and Wales.

It will bring together the health research budgets of the MRC and the Department of Health and will set the government's health research strategy, taking into account the advice, priorities and needs set up by the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR), its counterparts in Wales and Scotland, the MRC and NHS.

It will also set the public health research budget and distribute funding between the NIHR and MRC.

Professor Colin Blakemore, chief executive of the Medical Research Council (MRC), said: "We welcome Cooksey's review of the strength of the UK health research base and share the belief that current funding levels for basic science should be sustained.

"As we said in our submission to the Cooksey Review team, we fully embrace the Government's vision of a more integrated health R&D system across the entire UK."

The Department of Health recently re-launched its framework contract for industry-funded NHS clinical trials to improve their efficiency and enhance the NHS international research credentials.

The model clinical trials agreement was first launched in January 2003, but has not been as successful as predicted. New changes to it are designed to cut the cost of trials carried out in NHS hospitals and allow them to start sooner.

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