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March 16, 2023

Former Health Minister Appointed to Lead Review to Reverse Decline of UK Clinical Trials

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    The clinical trials research environment in the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) is on a “dangerous precipice” and without further action the country runs the risk of “jeopardizing the long-term future of clinical research.”

    These are the findings of an inquiry led by the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, which identified a number of areas for urgent action to secure the future of clinical research.

    In a bid to reverse the decline, the UK government has responded by appointing Lord James O’Shaughnessy, a former health minister and senior partner at medical consultancy Newmarket Strategy, to lead an independent review into the country’s commercial clinical trials landscape.

    The objective of the review is to offer recommendations on how to help the life sciences sector boost UK growth and investment and to resolve the challenges running commercial clinical trials.

    Patients Losing Out

    Figures from the latest annual report on clinical research from the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) show that there’s been a 44% drop in participants recruited to commercial clinical trials between 2017 and 2021. This situation was worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. There was also a 41% decline in the number of clinical trials in the same time period.

    The ABPI also highlighted that the UK is rapidly losing ground to countries such as Spain, Poland and Australia, dropping from fourth to 10th in the global ranking for Phase III trials. The decline has cost the country £447 million ($530 million).

    If this pattern continues, it means slower progress towards brand new treatments for cancer.

    Dr. Ian Walker

    Executive Director of Policy Information and Communications at Cancer Research UK

    Reduced access to trials is particularly concerning for patients with limited routine treatment options, such as the millions living with rare diseases along with patients with dementia and advanced cancer. Sir John Bell, the regius professor of medicine at the University of Oxford and a government life sciences adviser, recently said that the UK’s approach needs a “top to bottom” overhaul with patients losing access to cutting-edge cancer and dementia treatments.

    He added that bureaucracy that became simplified during the pandemic has since “ossified” meaning that the NHS workforce has less capacity for clinical research. His comments are echoed by Dr Ian Walker of Cancer Research UK, who has told media outlets the pandemic “cast a long shadow” over clinical research. “If this pattern continues, it means slower progress towards brand new treatments for cancer,” he said.

    Lord O’Shaughnessy’s review is to be published this Spring and will suggest priority actions for the rest of the year. It will explore new ways to recruit and conduct trials to speed up diagnosis, enhance treatment and enable the NHS to remain a life science “super power.” The review will also expand on the government’s 10-year vision for clinical trials “Saving and Improving Lives: The Future of UK Clinical Research Delivery.”

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