UK launches review of clinical trials amid worrying decline

House of Lords

Lord James O’Shaughnessy

The UK’s Office of Life Sciences (OLS) has commissioned an independent review of the country’s commercial clinical trials sector, following the publication of an industry report which found a sharp decline in new studies being started in recent years.

Former Health Minister Lord James O’Shaughnessy, senior partner at consultancy firm Newmarket Strategy and a board member of Health Data Research UK (HDR UK), has been given the task of preparing the review, which is due to be published in the spring.

The aim is to offer recommendations on ways to revitalise the clinical trials sector, which saw a 41% decline in new trial initiations between 2017 and 2021, according to figures published last year by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI).

The aim of the review is to deliver recommendations on how the commercial clinical trials can help the life sciences sector unlock UK growth and investment opportunities, and advice on how to resolve the challenges facing the sector.

“This review will help us to find new ways to conduct commercial clinical trials that will speed up diagnosis, enhance treatment and enable the NHS to deliver world-class care, as well as cementing our position as a life sciences super power,” said Health Minister Will Quince.

The UK has traditionally been a stronghold for clinical research, but pressure on the NHS and a slower-than-expected recovery after the pandemic have raised red flags about the long-term health of the sector, threatening the government’s vision of making life sciences a pillar of the national economy.

Earlier this month, AstraZeneca suggested that one reason for a decision to site a new facility in Ireland, rather than the UK, was reduced access to clinical trial capacity, particularly for late-stage, industry-backed projects. And last year, the British Medical Association (BMA) warned that separate regulatory arrangements between the UK and EU are placing the sector at a disadvantage.

The ABPI has pledged to “work closely” with member companies and Lord O’Shaughnessy to find the practical, system-wide reforms that will be needed to rebuild competitiveness in clinical research.

“Addressing the worrying decline of industry-sponsored clinical research in the NHS is critical if we are to deliver the UK’s ambitions for the life sciences sector and to support NHS recovery,” commented the ABPI’s director of research policy, Dr Jennifer Harris.

“The appointment of Lord O’Shaughnessy to carry out this review is important recognition that we need to act decisively to reverse this negative trend,” she added.