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Research plans attract

Published on 07/12/05 at 10:08am

Plans to boost UK medical research through improvements to NHS systems is set to attract an extra £1 billion investment from the pharmaceutical industry.

A new package of reforms put forward by the Treasury includes the setting up of medical centres of excellence around the country, funding for academic fellowships, and the use of the NHS's IT system to recruit patients for clinical trials.

Co-ordinating the reforms will be the National Institute for Health Research, a new body with a similar function to the US's National Institutes of Health.

The UK pharmaceutical industry has responded positively to the reforms and will invest an additional £1 billion - an increase of around 30% - in NHS clinical research.

Sir David Cooksey, chairman of the Industry Reference Group of the UK Clinical Research Collaboration (UKCRC), said the reforms were vital to help reverse the decline in clinical research and clinical trials activity that has occurred in the UK over the last few years.

"In aggregate they [the UKCRC] believe private sector investment in R&D involving the NHS should start to rise again. We believe it would be likely to rise by as much as £500 million a year in the short/medium term and around £1 billion in the medium to long term," said Cooksey.

But he stressed the substantial curtailing of animal rights extremism would be crucial to ensuring growth in future investment into NHS medical research.

The Treasury unveiled the reforms at a conference on Advancing Enterprise, at which chancellor Gordon Brown and health secretary Patricia Hewitt underlined the government's commitment to put the UK at the forefront of scientific innovation.

The Treasury hopes the reforms will improve the NHS's reputation for medical research, which it believes has suffered through poor management.

Additionally, it hopes that its medical centres of excellence will attract high quality staff and arrest the slide in the number of people involved in academic clinical research  which has fallen by a third over the last eight years.

It will also use the NHS's IT system to try and up the number of patients undertaking clinical trials as well as compiling data on the health of the population and policy effectiveness.

The Institute of Clinical Research (ICR) and the BioIndustry Association (BIA) have welcomed the reforms, saying they will result in new and improved medicines for patients.

Dr John Hooper, ICR chief executive officer, said: "The public can be assured that this announcement is another measure to bring beneficial treatments through the development process more safely, quickly and effectively."

The Treasury has also announced a widespread review of the system surrounding intellectual property rights, which will be headed by Andrew Gowers, former editor of the Financial Times.

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