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Lord O’Shaughnessy Review: Boosting UK Clinical Trials

clinical trials

Following the publishing of Lord O’Shaughnessy’s review, we examine the response of the Government to action the important recommendations to boost clinical trials.

Co-Chair of Curia‘s NHS Innovation and Life Sciences Commission, Lord James O’Shaughnessy has published his review of the UK commercial clinical trial landscape.

The anticipated review was commissioned by the Government to find recommendations on how to resolve key challenges in conducting commercial clinical trials in the UK and transform the life sciences environment encourage and attract clinical research.

Following the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI)’s report on dramatically falling trials and clinical research, the review is greatly welcomed by many across the health and life science sectors.

The review sets out 27 recommendations, including both priority actions to progress in 2023 and longer-term ambitions for UK commercial clinical trials.

Recommendations welcomed by the Government

The Government have responded to the review, welcoming all recommendations and has already issued plans into action.

In a bid to invigorate the economy and foster the development of cutting-edge treatments, the UK government has unveiled plans to provide better access to the National Health Service (NHS) for pharmaceutical giants.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has pledged a significant £650 million package to boost the life sciences sector and attract drug companies to Britain. The government aims to reverse the decline in clinical testing and research caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, offering financial incentives to General Practitioners (GPs) and setting research targets for hospitals.

Health Secretary, Steve Barclay has pledged to accept recommendations that will ultimately benefit patients, ensuring their well-being remains a priority.

Reviving clinical trials

Recognising the significance of the £94 billion life sciences industry as a driver of economic growth, the government seems to have acknowledged the challenges posed by bureaucracy, inertia, and cultural resistance in an overstretched NHS.

The number of patients enrolled in industry trials plummeted from 50,000 in 2018 to 28,000 in 2022.

One of the key recommendations put forth by Lord O’Shaughnessy is the quadrupling of patients in trials by 2027. Chancellor Hunt expressed his full support for this ambitious goal, emphasising the importance of allowing life science companies to trial their drugs on human subjects as part of their research and development process.

Streamlining processes

To expedite regulatory approval for trials and eliminate backlogs at the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the government has pledged £121 million.

Hunt has also promised pharmaceutical companies a simplified process, stating that the NHS will adopt a “one-contract-fits-all” approach, allowing companies to sign a contract with one hospital and have it apply across all hospitals in the NHS.

The aim is to replicate the successful clinical trials conducted during the pandemic, which led to the development of vaccines and treatments like dexamethasone, contributing significantly to saving lives.

Collaboration with industry leaders

Chancellor Hunt met with prominent pharmaceutical company leaders, including Dame Emma Walmsley, the CEO of GSK, the UK’s largest drug maker. Walmsley emphasised the urgent need for greater access to NHS data and warned that the life sciences industry is at a “tipping point.” The government’s response to these concerns will be crucial in ensuring the sector’s growth and success.

Financial incentives and targets

Lord O’Shaughnessy’s review highlights the substantial revenue losses of around £500 million incurred by the NHS due to the decline in medical research. The review recommends the implementation of annual targets at all levels, offering financial incentives to GPs to participate in commercial trials. Additionally, hospitals participating in trials would retain a larger portion of the funds received from pharmaceutical companies, while patients would find it easier to share their medical records for research purposes.

Unlocking potential and future plans

The government plans to address research needs by consulting on changes to planning policy, urging local councils to prioritise these requirements. The Chancellor intends to “unlock the possibility” of constructing hundreds of thousands of new homes and science parks between Oxford and Cambridge by approving a rail link, thereby revitalising the renowned “Oxford-Cambridge arc” of high-tech development.

Experts’ opinions and promises

The recommendations of the review have been commented on and accepted by many across the health and life science sector.

Dame Kate Bingham, former head of the coronavirus vaccine taskforce, advocates for offering every patient diagnosed with a disease lacking effective treatment the opportunity to participate in trials. Dr. Ian Walker of Cancer Research UK acknowledges the strain on cancer services, with staff struggling to allocate sufficient time to deliver promising clinical trials. Both have supported the needed boost to clinical trials and the research infrastructure.

Colleague and Co-Chair of the NHS Innovation & Life Sciences Commission, Professor Mike Bewick commented: “It is encouraging to see the positive outcomes of Lord O’Shaughnessy’s review of clinical trials in the UK.

“As we reported in our own health commission published in 2022, it is imperative that UK research is actively promoted and supported, and access to clinical trials becomes widespread across the NHS.”

Final thought

The publication of Lord O’Shaughnessy’s review has sparked a positive response from the UK government, which has swiftly taken action to implement the important recommendations aimed at boosting clinical trials.

The implementation of Lord O’Shaughnessy’s recommendations signals a positive step toward revitalizing the UK’s clinical trials landscape. By providing a conducive environment for research and collaboration, the government aims to transform the life sciences sector, drive economic growth, and ultimately improve patient outcomes.

NHS Innovation & Life Sciences Commission

Lord O’Shaughnessy and Professor Bewick led the NHS Innovation & Life Sciences Commission’s 2022 programme, including practical recommendations to boost UK clinical trials. This year, the Commission is holding a series of regional workshops to appraise those recommendations and develop new inquiries into key therapeutic areas.

For further information about the Commission, contact Senior Research and Policy Analyst: harry.blacklock@chamberuk.com

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