The Week that Was 24/11/14

Certainly a busy time in the UK with a host of meetings taking place run by the likes of the Financial Times, ABPI (Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry), Consilium Healthcare, Jefferies and Number 10.

The big news was announcement of a government review of how new treatments and medical devices are developed and adopted in the UK, with an overarching aim of finding ways to speed the path to market for innovative products, lower the costs for industry, and ensure the NHS helps patients gain better access to medical breakthroughs.  The Minister for Life Sciences, George Freeman, is looking to make the UK the best place in the world to deliver innovations to patients faster.  We certainly support that lofty ambition, particularly if it can help to defuse the obvious disconnect that exists between a government that on the one hand has ambitions to promote the UK as an investment destination for the global life sciences yet on the other hand has a cash-strapped health service that avoids innovation because of cost constraints.

The hope is that by lowering development costs through an accelerated path to market the government can encourage investment in medical science while also producing more affordable treatments for the NHS.   The review will be conducted by an independent organisation that has yet to be named and will commence at the start of 2015 with a report anticipated in the summer taking input from industry, regulators and patient groups.  With an election slated for May next year, the current government and Freeman may only have six months to push this idea, so urgency is expected.  At its heart, the UK Treasury needs to be convinced that healthcare is not just a cost but equally a major asset.  To be continued….

Elsewhere, Cancer Research Technology, the commercial arm of the charity Cancer Research UK (CRUK), announced the fourth investment from its £50 million CRT Pioneer Fund into CRUK’s Manchester Institute to develop a promising class of drugs called RET inhibitors to treat cancer.

Genomics England announced the launch of the Clinical Interpretation Partnership to bring together UK researchers and the NHS to translate findings from the 100,000 Genomes Project for use in the early diagnosis of diseases.  This will engage with the UK academic and healthcare communities along with international collaborators, providing them with access to the data from the Project.  The focus will be on rare heart disease, breast cancer, rare inherited neurological disease and other ailments that the Project is tackling.

UK company Oncascan is leveraging technology from the University of Bradford to develop a blood-based screening test for cancer that could reduce the number of unnecessary biopsies and other procedures.  The technology uses UVA light to differentiate patients who have cancer from those who don’t, based on their DNA.

Merck is pledging to invest at least $66 million into the UK over the next three years as it blueprints a London dealmaking outpost, following in the footsteps of Johnson & Johnson in doing so, and also expanding its R&D operations in Hertfordshire with a focus on oncology and dementia research.  In addition, Becton Dickinson plans to invest £21 million to build a plant in southwest England to produce blood separation tubes.  And in other pharma news, AstraZeneca touted its pipeline at an analyst day just ahead of the imminent date when Pfizer could return to its quest to acquire AZ, which until now has fought strongly to remain independent.

Alzheimer’s UK joined a consortium that is supporting Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst’s neurodegenerative  diseases challenge, with the consortium reviewing the research proposals coming into the centre that sits right along GlaxoSmithKline’s large facility in Stevenage north of London.  And the UK’s top investor in the life sciences, Neil Woodford, made a rare deal outside Europe when he invested £25 million into US firm Northwest Biotherapeutics.

Finally, in a finding that beggars belief, the latest findings of the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development are that the average cost now of developing has grown to nearly $2.6 billion.  Some critics of the Center, which does take in industry funding, claim that the cost is closer to $150 million.  The discrepancy between the two figures points to the chasm between both sides of the debate on drug costs but when all is said and done, we believe the reality is probably much closer to the Tufts figure.  Bottom line, both the failure rates and the costs are too high.  We just need to do things better, faster and cheaper as Bruce Booth remarked in Forbes.  Now if the UK can come up with a better way to…..

I hope everyone has a spectacular week ahead and a happy Thanksgiving to all in North America.  I will be celebrating appropriately here in the UK and taking time out to welcome US visitors.

Nigel Gaymond