With 7,000 medicines in the pipeline, we are in a golden era of medicine. Innovation in conditions such as cancer care, where the speed of the science has helped us to make strides in treating the disease, and advances in gene and cell therapies and immunotherapies have the potential to change healthcare globally. The UK is already at the forefront; a heavyweight in medicines discovery. Our academic and research institutions are among the best in the world.
Over the course of my career, I’ve seen medical advances transform HIV/Aids from a death sentence to a manageable, chronic condition and the advent of curative treatments for diseases such as hepatitis C, which can now be cured with just a 12-week course of pills. Our scientists spend their entire lives searching for ways to make our lives better. Some devote their careers to just one disease.
We have a unique opportunity do this by capitalising on the potential of the National Health Service. Through its large patient populations and vast networks of expertise, we can make the NHS the best place in the world to research, develop and use new medicines.
The use of real-world data is central to achieving better patient care through a more productive and efficient NHS. The pioneering Salford Lung Study, a groundbreaking collaboration between the University of Manchester Health Informatics, the NHS and GSK, used electronic health records to carry out clinical trials in near real time. Initial results suggest the data from the trials could transform our understanding of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and how patients respond to treatments. These real-time clinical trials are key to understanding diseases in our population and will be vital in helping us develop the safe and effective treatments of the future.
But uptake of new treatments and technologies in the UK is slow in comparison with other developed countries. For every 100 patients who receive a new medicine in its first year of launch in comparable countries, including Germany, France, Canada, Australia and the United States, only 18 will get it in the UK.
Ahead of the general election, it is important that the next government have a clear strategy to secure and grow the UK’s status as a world leader in innovation and access to medicines.
Whoever is in power come June 8 must have a strategy to make NHS patient outcomes among the best in the world. This should start with a plan to increase healthcare investment to the G7 average of 11.3 per cent of GDP compared with the 9.9 per cent we currently spend. The best way to do this is through an effective industrial strategy with the life sciences sector at the heart of it.
As we enter what is arguably the most challenging period for our sector and as we look to exit the European Union, the new government must secure a new relationship with the EU which retains co-operation, and secures an agreement that prioritises public health and ensures the swift availability of medicines for patients. Some 500 million people across the EU depend on this.
Science innovation has helped increase UK life expectancy by ten years since the 1960s. For every success, there have been thousands of failures. It is easy to forget what our industry has done to help people live longer, better lives.
The prime minister says: “It is hard to think of an industry of greater strategic importance to Britain than its pharmaceutical industry.” We should be proud. We must be ambitious for the future.
In my 20-plus years in this amazing industry, I’ve learnt one important lesson above all others. If you put the patient at the centre of any decision, you will not go wrong.