8th October 2012 Stockholm, Sweden
Medicines and modernisation
An appropriate issue to blog about on the day a British biologist, Sir John Gurdon, wins the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.
Sir John’s research on nuclear transfer in frogs in 1962 shattered the dogma that cells only develop in one direction – from young cells to mature cells. He showed that differentiated or mature cells such as skin cells or brain cells still contain the genetic instructions to turn them into any kind of cell. This discovery means that in the future replacement adult cells e g heart or brain cells could be made by taking samples from patients of their skin or blood.
Medicine and innovation more generally depend on breakthroughs like that.
We take it for granted that when we go to the doctor or pharmacy we will get the medicine we need. We hear of pioneering new medicines, which might eventually make their way into the clinics. Things like Beta blockers, or the latest generation of flu drugs. Sweden and the UK have been pioneers of new drugs driven by both our industry and our academics.
But the international pipeline for new medicines could be drying up. Big pharmaceutical companies all over the world face the same challenge. Only a tiny fraction (5-10%) of all clinical trials delivers successful products. Those trials and the research which precedes them are hugely costly and time consuming.
So how to ensure that great new medicines continue to be developed? How are we going to develop the right conditions for pharma companies, large and small, to deliver new products, new jobs and investment?
Here at the Embassy, we’re doing our bit.
On 25 September I hosted a dinner for UK and Swedish life science companies, as part of a trade mission of fifteen UK research companies in Sweden to increase their business here. As a result they have already secured future business worth over £1 million.
On 26 September I had the pleasure of speaking at the Forska!Sverige event on life sciences policy in Stockholm. There was a distinguished Swedish cast list, headed by Jan Björklund, with representatives of four other Swedish parties, too and lots of researchers, academics and other experts. As a mere political scientist I felt very inadequate to the occasion!
Happily, I was joined by guests from the UK – George Freeman life sciences adviser to David Willetts, the UK’s Science Minister and Prof Chas Bountra , Chief Scientist at the Structural Genomics Consortium at Oxford. We set out the measures in the UK Life Sciences Strategy.
One of the key themes of our strategy is making the UK an even better place to do science and research.
So, we are cutting corporation tax. We are cutting tax on income generating from patent medicines.
We are opening up our NHS to allow companies to come in and validate targets in the clinic, and benefit from NHS data.
Every NHS patient in the UK, unless they choose to opt out, is now a research patient, supplying their (anonymised) data for research.
The British government’s Nordic Science and Innovation Network, based in the Embassy here, will continue to build science, trade and investment links between the UK and Sweden in this important field, encouraging innovators to commercialise the medicines of the future.