Yesterday morning our Chief Executive Dr Harpal Kumar was delighted to welcome Prime Minister David Cameron to the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Research Institute. This was a great opportunity to showcase some of our groundbreaking research. And more importantly, during the visit the PM outlined his plan to introduce a new genetics initiative that’ll help develop better treatments.
The Government will set aside £100m for the project in England, which aims to give doctors a better understanding of patients’ genetic make-up. The plans could see up to 100,000 patients have their genomes sequenced in the next three to five years and the information could help develop new cancer treatments. It was great to hear why the PM felt this initiative was vital:
“It is crucial that we continue to push the boundaries and this new plan will mean we are the first country in the world to use DNA codes in the mainstream of the health service.
“By unlocking the power of DNA data, the NHS will lead the global race for better tests, better drugs and above all better care. We are turning an important scientific breakthrough into a potentially life-saving reality for NHS patients across the country.”
We agree and are pleased with the announcement, as we’ve been working hard – with many others – to develop new treatments, and to ensure the NHS can effectively deliver a more personalised cancer treatment service. In-depth genetic information about each cancer patient will be a big part of such tailored care.
But, it’s important to highlight that it will still be some time before everyone with the disease will be able to have treatment based on the genetic make-up of their cancer.
Progress on other life sciences initiatives
The timing of today’s announcement is significant – exactly one year ago the PM outlined the Government’s new Life Sciences Strategy to support the medical research sector in the UK, which we welcomed as an encouraging sign of the importance of the life sciences’ vital role in the UK.
In addition to the new genomics initiative, today also saw the publication of a progress report on the Strategy, and we wanted to reflect on where we think improvements have been made.
Access to patient data for research
One of the most high profile announcements was the Government’s commitment to consult on more explicit rights and pledges related to the use of patient data in research. It’s an important strand of the new NHS Constitution. This important document outlines what staff, patients and the public can expect from the National Health Service. Now that the revised NHS Constitution has been published for consultation, we want to emphasise how important the section related to patient data will be in setting new expectations in the NHS.
The clarity that the Constitution now provides, especially in relation to how patient data is used in research, should help the Department of Health and the NHS to provide clearer information to patients.
These are all really positive steps, but changes to the NHS Constitution alone will not lead to sufficient culture change within the NHS for better access to patient data. This work needs to be supported by providing comprehensive information to both patients and healthcare professionals on this issue.
Check out our position on patient data here.
Early Access to Medicine
In July the Government asked for feedback on whether the UK would benefit from an ‘Early Access Scheme’ to provide new drugs to patients quicker.Their idea is to develop a robust, national system for people in need of new treatments to access experimental drugs before they are licensed for wider use. The Government also hopes that such a scheme will make the UK an attractive place for investment by the life sciences industry.
There are several examples of cancer drugs that would have benefitted from a more flexible access scheme in the UK.
But we think that the proposed scheme would offer only modest gains in terms of patient access to medicines, and are therefore keen for the Government to continue to explore other possible avenues to help patients get earlier access to medicines. We expect to find out shortly how the Government intends to take this proposal forward.
Today has seen the UK take another important step forward towards building a thriving life sciences sector, in which Cancer Research UK clearly has an integral role to play. We hope that vital investment in medical research will be an important step towards saving more lives from cancer.
Emma Greenwood, Head of Policy Development