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UK science has an outstanding record and we remain strong internationally in terms of achievement, productivity and efficiency.
The potential for innovative technology in healthcare and the commercial applications of bioscience is huge: the bioscience and healthcare sectors in the UK generated over €34 billion during 2004, of which €17.75 billion was directly from the pharmaceutical industry and €16.25 billion was from medical devices.
Clearly, major advances in science and technology are fuelling the globalization of the world's markets. The trends of an increasingly ageing population; increasing demand for — and costs of — healthcare provision; and the spiralling costs of drug development are global. As a consequence, companies need to constantly strengthen their capabilities and find innovative ways to satisfy customer demands and UK organizations have significant market opportunities.
To ensure that UK firms remain at the forefront of technology development and exploitation, it is vital that businesses can identify potential commercial applications for the promising new technologies emerging from the country's research community.
The UK Government's 10-year science and innovation investment framework leads on this agenda and aims, through an investment of €5 billion, to ensure that the potential to turn innovation into commercial opportunity is maximized.
Until recently, the Office of Science and Technology and the DTI's Innovation Group have worked together to successfully deliver the framework in a highly successful partnership. Now they have come together into one organization. The DTI's Office of Science and Innovation (OSI) continues the commitment to make the UK one of the best places in the world for science, research and innovation.
OSI's challenges to achieve that vision include sustaining and developing the UK's world-class research base, strengthening its links with business and other users, enabling knowledge transfer, and promoting innovation in products, services and processes.
It works closely with the business-led Technology Strategy Board (TSB), which advises the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on business research, technology and innovation priorities for the UK, the allocation of funding across these priorities and the most appropriate ways to support them.
Since October 2004, the board has engaged business, the research community and other stakeholders in identifying key technologies where the UK has the potential and opportunity to lead the world — and both the strategy and the board have achieved international recognition for their work in developing UK innovation policies.
The board oversees the Technology Programme, which supports companies by sharing some of the financial risk of their medium- to long-term investments in technology. Through its business-driven framework and an investment of €547 million over three years, it supports competitions for collaborative R&D and is establishing knowledge transfer networks (KTNs) intended to enhance the UK's competitive position.
This year has seen the launch of a number of KTNs, which will provide a range of support services, including a dedicated website, business-to-business facilities, networking opportunities, online conferencing, briefing notes, and expert opinions on technology and policy.
Today, the board is developing a strategy for UK wealth creation and is calling on business to help realize its vision. In April this year, it launched six medium-term strategies in key technology areas, all of them developed in consultation with business and all of which the board felt can generate new streams of economic activity in their own right.
It also invited business to share its thoughts by engaging with the strategy and contacting the board with its views on priorities, issues and future direction. Individual businesses were also urged to become involved, with the board emphasizing that business and the board need to work together to develop a more market-oriented, holistic approach to meeting the needs of the UK's world-leading industries.
Moving forward, it is also important that we align with technology strategies at a European level, in particular the Innovative Medicines Initiative, whose main objective is to remove the bottlenecks hampering the efficiency of new medicine development — thereby providing faster access to better medicines for European citizens. This will also ensure that the UK is in the best possible position to take advantage of opportunities under Framework Programme 7, the EU's chief instrument for funding scientific research and technological development.
Science and innovation is vital for the future of the UK economy. UK science has an outstanding record and remains strong internationally in terms of achievement, productivity and efficiency. The amount of business investment in R&D must increase if the UK is to remain competitive in an increasingly global marketplace. It is essential that business helps to drive the technology strategy forward.
For further details of up and coming Collaborative Research and Development Competitions, visit www.dti.gov.uk/innovation/tech-priorities-uk/index.html
Sir Keith O'Nions is director of science and innovation at the Department of Trade and Industry, UK.