BMA responds to ABPI report, warns UK losing research leadership

group of chemical scientists working at the laboratory.

In response to the recent Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) report, which showed a sharp decline (41%) in clinical trials initiated by the UK in the period 2017 to 2021, the British Medical Association has released a warning that the government must do more to avoid further decline in the UK’s dominance as a world leader in medical research.

Chair of the BMA’s medical academic staff committee, Professor David Strain, said: “The worrying decrease in the number of clinical trials [PDF] in the UK in recent years is further evidence of the UK’s declining dominance as one of the world’s leaders in medical research. This highlights the importance of maintaining the closest possible relationship to our partners in the European Union, as a system of separate regulatory arrangements is placing us at a disadvantage.”

Strain continued: “As well as the serious impact this has on patients who may not be as able to access the most ground-breaking advancements in treatment, it will result in a loss of funding for the NHS at a time when it can least afford it.”

Strain also warned that the situation would have serious implications for the medical academic workforce: a decline in UK-based clinical trials means that the most talented and ambitious medical academics and researchers will choose alternative countries in which to pursue their careers.

Government assistance in reversing the ‘worrying trend’ would involve an accessible approvals process, in addition to maintaining protections for patients and participants. Furthermore, urgent investment would be needed in order to ‘preserve and grow’ the UK life science sector.

The BMA is a professional association and trade union that represents and negotiates on behalf of all doctors in the UK. The ABPI, meanwhile, aims to “make the UK the best place in the world to research, develop, and use new medicines and vaccines”. It operates in partnership with the government and NHS, so patients can access new treatments faster and the NHS can plan its spending on medicines.

Between 2018 and 2020, the median time between a clinical trial in the UK applying for regulatory approval and that trial delivering its first dose to a participant rose by 25 days to 247 days – placing the UK in 7th place amongst comparator countries. This has resulted in a 41% reduction in UK-initiated trials. Additionally, patient access to industry research has fallen by a dramatic 44%.

Therefore, the BMA is urging the government to ‘act decisively’ and “stave off this existential threat to the UK life sciences sector and healthcare ecosystem”. Significant benefits are estimated to result, including an additional £68 billion of GDP for the UK economy from increased R&D investment and a 40% decrease in total attributable burden of disease.