NHS must drive forward life sciences strategy, says Lords’ leader

The success of the government’s life sciences strategy hinges on the NHS using novel medicines and therapies, according to Lord Patel, the peer leading an inquiry into the sector.

Lord Patel is chair of the Lords Science and Technology Select Committee, which today takes evidence from big US pharma companies, including MSD, which has just announced a major investment in an R&D centre in London.

Representatives of two other big US pharma companies, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen unit, will also give evidence this morning.

Originally trained as an obstetrician, Lord Patel has a strong background in biomedical sciences and is leading the committee’s inquiry into the life sciences strategy, after the sector was one of four that have been given special deals to boost growth.

The other three sectors are construction, automotive and Artificial Intelligence. The life sciences sector deal has been agreed, but more detail will be announced next week.

But Lord Patel is the latest to stress the importance of the NHS, the single largest consumer of health products in the country.

Unfortunately, the NHS has a reputation for slow adoption of the latest drugs and therapies, and the argument is that this must change if the pharma and life sciences sector is to achieve its true potential, as well as ensuring patients get the best possible treatments and outcomes.

He told pharmaphorum in an interview ahead of today’s evidence session that MSD’s announcement is “very important for the UK” and the life sciences sector deal.

The government is already trying to encourage use of novel drugs and therapies, by creating an Accelerated Access Pathway that will select a handful of products, hasten their clinical development, and encourage their use in the NHS.

But this is set against a backdrop of a continued squeeze on funding, and an annual struggle to meet waiting times targets in A&E and cancer each winter because services cannot meet demand.

Although the chancellor Philip Hammond in his Autumn Budget pledged an extra £2.8 billion in funding to relieve pressures until 2020, critics have said this still falls short

“What this demonstrates is the confidence in life sciences and biomedical life sciences. It is true that biomedical sciences are quite strong. We are well regarded in our biomedical sciences and companies large and small will be interested if we can develop this.”

“What is important is how this will be driven by the NHS. It will only happen with the NHS,” said Lord Patel.

Lord Patel

Lord Patel said that a body with oversight of the life sciences strategy will be a key part of the sector deal, and will need to be influential to steer the plan to success.

“There will be a creative council that will report to the government – it is important to see how high a level it is and how much authority it has.”

Labour has criticised the sector deals, saying that the government should be focusing on improving productivity, and pay and conditions, in industries such as hospitality.

In response to this, the crossbench peer said: “What the plan is about is investing over 10 years in life sciences. That does not mean we are not interested in other sectors, or other services.”

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