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A vision for the next decade of UK life sciences

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by Cancer Research UK | Research Feature

21 July 2021

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The UK Government recently published its Life Sciences Vision which sets out how the UK can build on its status as a global leader in life sciences to diagnose, treat, cure and prevent disease.

A healthy life sciences environment is critical to maximise the impact of Cancer Research UK’s research and drive progress to see 3 in 4 people with cancer surviving the disease by 2034. Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK CEO, was part of the advisory group steering the Vision. She was successful in highlighting what is important for cancer and the vital role medical research charities will play to ensure the UK can deliver on the Vision’s ambitions.

“We’re pleased to see the commitments made to boosting early diagnosis and treatment for cancer, areas that we have pioneered as we know they will make a big impact for patients,” she said. “Backed by the right investment, this vision will set the UK apart as a world leader in life sciences and cancer research, which will drive scientific innovation and, ultimately, save lives.”

Key points in the Vision

Building on the 2017 Life Sciences Industrial Strategy, the Vision provides a 10-year view from the Government of its plans to stimulate the UK’s life sciences sector and focuses on how some of the most significant health challenges will be addressed, including cancer.

The Vision has four themes (including clinical research); seven healthcare missions (cancer is one); and four preconditions for success (NHS as an innovation partner; growing investment in science and research; governance and oversight of NHS health data; and access to finance).

There is a welcome emphasis on the early diagnosis and treatment of disease throughout the Vision.

Specific cancer healthcare challenge highlights:

  • The UK has the potential to act as a testbed for oncology innovation with the right focus on developing and commercialising new medicines, diagnostics and technologies. CRUK set out the challenges and potential solutions to commercialising early detection and diagnosis technologies in our Early Detection and Diagnosis of Cancer Roadmap, which we shared with key parts of the Government during the development of the Vision.
  • A focus on immunotherapies and cancer vaccines.
  • Recognition that cancer is a global challenge that no country can solve alone, with the recently announced UK-US Cancer Summit mentioned and its role in sharing ideas and stimulating collaboration to advance progress.

Ambitions in the Vision’s section on clinical research are also welcome, with aims to make the NHS “fully research ready”. These ambitions support recommendations in CRUK’s report on NHS research, Creating Time for Research. “We’re pleased to see the commitments made to boosting early diagnosis and treatment for cancer, areas that we have pioneered as we know they will make a big impact for patients,” said Michelle.

Clinical research highlights:

  • To embed clinical research and innovation in the NHS, bolster capacity and create a research-positive culture – including expectations on leaders to encourage research, steps to create capacity and incentives, monitoring and reporting of activity within the NHS, and embedding research in standards for registered professionals.
  • To make the UK the leading global centre for innovative research design and delivery – with a focus on clinical trials set up and delivery, noting the need to build on…on the G7 Clinical Trials Protocol.
  • To cut bureaucracy and red tape to create a more efficient and effective research environment.
  • To ensure the UK remains a financially attractive location for research and development.
  • To reflect the diversity of the UK’s population in future clinical research.

There is much to be welcomed in the plans and their ambitions to enhance and grow the life sciences sector. However, the plans are high level and provide strategic direction rather than setting out specific programmes – spending commitments will be needed in the next Government Spending Review to ensure priorities are delivered on.

The Vision also recognises that NHS health data will be a fundamental factor and emphasises that success can only be achieved with the full support of patients, the public and the NHS.

The important role of medical research charities is mentioned throughout the Vision, demonstrating that our role in this shared endeavour is recognised. Translating the Vision’s ambitions into reality will rely on investment and partnership across all parts of the UK’s diverse research environment – Cancer Research UK will play a vital role and we need to work collectively with industry, academia and Government.

Read Michelle’s perspective on the Vision here

Read the Life Science Vision here


Zoë Martin is a Policy Manager at Cancer Research UK