UK govt pledges £260m to health data, manufacturing

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The UK biopharma industry has welcomed a new tranche of funding from the government aimed at bolstering manufacturing of medicinal products and developing the national health data infrastructure.

The investment package includes £200 million ($268 million) to enable researchers to better access NHS data through what the government calls Trusted Research Environments and digital clinical trial services.

This will make crucial data more securely and quickly available for research, while maintaining privacy, and help the NHS to deliver new life-saving treatments to patients faster, according to the Department of Health.

Another £60 million will be made available for expanding life sciences manufacturing "from cell and gene therapies and earlier and better diagnostic technologies, to medical devices," it added.

The chief executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), Richard Torbett, said the new funding "will strengthen our sector and help the government realise its Vision for Life Sciences," which aims to turn the UK into a global research and manufacturing hub for the sector.

The £200 million earmarked for health data marks the latest attempt by the UK government to find a way to harness the vast amount of patient data generated within the NHS, after another embarrassing setback for the government last year when millions of people opted out of its latest controversial scheme.

The Trusted Research Environments will "drive forward the longstanding ambition to broaden access to NHS data while preserving patient privacy," according to Dr Ben Goldacre, director of the Oxford University's DataLab and author of an upcoming report on how patient data can be safely and ethically used for research and analysis.

Meanwhile, digitalisation of clinical trials will make them quicker and easier to set up and run, support more diverse and inclusive clinical research to tackle health inequalities and improve patient care, according to the government.

ABPI director of strategy, research and partnerships – Colette Goldrick – welcomed the investment in health data, noting this has been critical in the fight against COVID-19.

"More people than ever before have seen the benefits that sharing information can bring in terms of researching and developing new treatments at unprecedented speed," she said.

" We look forward to this funding, once confirmed, strengthening the UK's health data assets to unlock a new generation of medical breakthroughs."

Last week, UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid said he wanted to accelerate the rollout of electronic patient records (EPR) in the NHS, with 90% of NHS trusts using them by the end of 2023, and expand use of the NHS app in additional move towards greater use of digital health technologies.