Has the UK been complacent?
The irony for the UK is that there are a number of longstanding initiatives in place to help strengthen its position in both
traditional pharma and biotech R&D. Despite opposing views over pharmaceutical pricing, government and industry representatives
often have joint discussions on issues of common concern.
Indeed, in November 1999, the UK government, together with representatives of the domestic pharma industry, set up the Pharmaceutical
Industry Competitiveness Task Force (PICTF) to identify steps that could be taken to make the UK more attractive for R&D investment
(4). The PICTF team met in April 2000 and published its final recommendations in March 2001. Industry representatives were
of the opinion that despite the UK's historically strong performance, traditional factors that had contributed to success
in the past, such as established academic excellence in life sciences, could not be relied upon to maintain competitiveness
in the future. Factors such as market access and intellectual property protection would gauge how the UK was viewed relative
to the rest of the world — particularly the US.
PICTF focused on six areas of UK competitiveness (market developments, intellectual property rights, regulation of medicines
licensing, science base and biopharmaceuticals, clinical research and wider economic climate) considered vital for future
performance, and established working groups to examine them. Reliable competitiveness indicators were identified, with the
intention of reviewing them annually. A quick look at the DoH site notes that reviews were not published for 2006–2008, though
2009 is available, so perhaps they are back on track (5).
The pharmaceutical industry representatives also used the PICTF initiative as an opportunity to gain commitment from the government
to explore some of the industry's concerns. One particular worry at this time was the role that NICE would play in the future
UK market (something which continues to trouble the industry today). They sought clarification on the timing of the body's
decisions in relation to the availability of data, the limitations of modelling with reference to particular case studies,
and how topics were selected for NICE appraisal. Separately, the industry representatives also had helpful discussions with
the treasury on a range of fiscal and taxation issues.
PICTF was considered a success in that it established a framework for dialogue on issues over which the government and the
pharma industry might differ. However, it also represented high-level recognition from the government that it valued the industry's
contribution to the UK economy. The value of PICTF was also recognised by other countries, as well as by the European Commission
(EC), and has shaped their own approaches to boosting national and regional R&D. In 2004, for example, the French government
launched a similar exercise called PharmaFrance and even sent representatives to the UK to seek company viewpoints on the
Another pharmaceutical R&D initiative that featured UK pharma industry participation was conducted at an overall EU level
by the EC's G10 Medicines Group (6). In 2002, the group brought together top European industry and public health decision
makers to consider ways of improving competitiveness in line with social and public health objectives. In a similar fashion
to PICTF, the G10 group set up a system of EU indicators to allow comparisons to be made between the EU and its major competitors
as a basis for establishing best practice within the EU and uptake in each member state. The group also published a report
on its findings for the EC, outlining proposals for concrete action to be taken (7).Out of the 14 or so G10 recommendations,
perhaps the most one important was to set benchmarks by which Europe could measure its industry productivity against the US.
More information was also to be made available regarding disease statistics, as there was an incomplete picture across Europe.
Recognising the growing importance of biotech R&D to the future of new drug development, in 2003, the UK Government launched
the Bioscience Innovation and Growth Team (BIGT), which was led by the BioIndustry Association (BIA) in conjunction with the
Departments of Trade & Industry and Health. Like PICTF, the BIGT issued a report, following consultation with more than 70
industry experts. Its recommendations included programmes to increase the scientific and managerial talent base available
to the biotech sector, with the hope of emulating the leading position of the US in the field of biotech drug development.
Many of the recommendations recognised the need for a long-term vision for the industry and reached as far as 2015. Unfortunately,
such goals make monitoring its ongoing success difficult.
A much more recent initiative is "Lifescience UK". Launched in January 2011, four key members, the Association of British
Healthcare Industries (ABHI), the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), the BioIndustry Association (BIA)
and the British In Vitro Diagnostics Association (BIVDA), will all represent their own sector interests and work with the
government to help strengthen and grow the UK's life sciences environment. Watch this space.