Peers to discuss possible return of life sciences minister role

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Senior UK politicians will next week hear evidence in an inquiry asking whether goals in the government’s life sciences strategy are achievable and whether the life sciences minister role should be reinstated.

According to a press notice ahead of the meeting, peers from the committee will investigate who should be responsible for delivering the strategy and whether the government should appoint a life sciences minister - a role axed by Theresa May during a reshuffle last year.

The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee will begin taking evidence for its inquiry into the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy on Tuesday.

Amongst the witness are representatives from Cancer Research UK and Research Councils UK, as well as senior leaders from Cambridge University and Imperial College London.

The evidence will provide an opportunity to hear the witness’s reactions to the strategy unveiled at the end of August.

In the strategy, the government said it plans to create a “sector deal” to boost funding for science and introduce policies allowing NHS patients faster access to novel medicines.

It was part of a wider industrial strategy championed by Theresa May in order to boost the economy through the Brexit process.

The first life sciences minister was George Freeman, who after his appointment in 2014 oversaw the drafting of the Accelerated Access Review.

Written by senior civil servant Sir Hugh Taylor, the review informed policies in the life sciences strategy and called for reforms to NICE and a smoother regulatory process to make the UK more attractive to valuable life science R&D projects.

Freeman headed the Office for Life Sciences, which reported jointly to the Department of Health and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, in a bid to foster more joined-up policy making.

But following last year’s Brexit referendum, Theresa May moved Freeman to become chair of her policy board, and the life sciences minister role was scrapped, with responsibility shared between the Department of Health and the renamed Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

Responsibilities of the life sciences minister were divided up between junior health ministers, Lord O’Shaughnessy and Nicola Blackwood, and at the BEIS, trade minister Greg Hands, and junior minister Lord Prior.