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Academia, industry and the NHS

Professor Sir John Bell, President, Academy of Medical Sciences, looks a how fostering innovation through partnership will enable the UK to seize to scientific opportunities

In the UK, the positive relationship between world-class medical sciences and national gains in health and wealth is clearly established. The insights generated by fundamental scientific research are at the core of the UK?s innovation ?ecosystem? and our history of supporting long-term basic research has generated considerable health and economic rewards.

Excellence in research in medical sciences leads to better medical care, attracts investment and industries, and improves healthcare services. Importantly, as we now look for ways to reinvigorate the UK economy and to make the NHS and other public services more cost effective, medical sciences research is witnessing a phase of exciting discovery and translation.

The Academy of Medical Sciences, of which I am president, has long championed the importance of medical sciences and research for wealth generation and improved healthcare. The Academy is the independent body in the UK representing the whole spectrum of medical sciences and our 944 elected Fellows are the UK?s leading scientists from hospitals and general practice, academia, industry and the public service.

A recent Academy of Medical Sciences meeting, and a short report published in January, ?Reaping the rewards: a vision for UK medical sciences?, have considered how the UK can seize scientific opportunities by building on our strengths in the academic, healthcare and industrial sectors ? in short, by fostering innovation through partnership.

Medical Sciences - opportunities

Advances in biological research over the past decades have generated countless insights into the pathophysiology of disease. Excitement in scientific discovery is discernable across a broad front of research disciplines, and new knowledge has come together with technical capability in areas where the UK leads the world. This is exemplified by important advances in molecular biology and diagnostic technologies, which are greatly improving the early detection of disease and will create opportunities to improve disease stratification and enhance disease monitoring after therapeutic interventions. The UK?s unique access to well-characterised patient populations and its expertise in areas of medical sciences like genetics, genomics and molecular pathology provide a unique set of research and commercial opportunities in this area.

Biomedical imaging has also long been a field of UK research strength, notably recognised through the Nobel Prizes awarded to Sir Peter Mansfield FRS FMedSci and Sir Godfrey Hounsfield FRS for discoveries in Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Computed Topography (CT) scanning respectively. There are now particular opportunities to develop novel approaches to cell-specific delivery systems for imaging and therapy, eg non-viral strategies for delivery of biochemical pathway reagents and molecular probes, and to build on existing expertise and infrastructure.

These are just two examples of areas in medical sciences that are on the cusp of translation into benefits for patients and society. The UK must capitalise on these emerging opportunities by drawingon the world-class research that is undertaken in our public and private sectors.

Building on UK strengths

The Academy of Medical Sciences has long argued that no other country enjoys the outstanding opportunities for research represented by the NHS, which together with the world-class status of our researchers, universities and research funders, offers an unparalleled competitive advantage in medical sciences for the UK. We have a historical record of international excellence in medical sciences, with UK researchers punching well above their weight in terms of publications, citations and prizes. Indeed, four of our universities currently sit in the global top 10.

We benefit from a strong pharmaceutical and biotechnology sector presence, along with world-renowned public research funders such as the Medical Research Council (MRC), as well as medical sciences research charities such as the Wellcome Trust. Significantly, our medical sciences research charities contribute one-third of non-commercial spending on medical research ? one of the largest proportional contributions in the world. The strength of our medical charities is also evidence of robust public backing for UK medical sciences and its aims.

A vision for UK medical sciences

In ?Reaping the rewards: a vision for UK medical science?, the Academy calls upon the next government to put medical sciences research to work as the engine of Britain?s future prosperity through:

  • Integrating medical innovation into the fabric of the NHS to offer better, more cost-effective healthcare and public health services, along with improved opportunities for collaborative R&D with industry.
  • A national system of electronic health records that allows researchers access to data from one of the world?s largest single healthcare systems to improve the safety of medicines, to understand the causes of disease, to identify research participants, and to locate patients who would benefit most from targeted health interventions.
  • A fertile research environment created by appropriate regulation and financial incentives that enable the medical sciences industries to flourish, generating public revenue and high-value jobs.
  • Cost-effective international development measures and strong international health research capacity to enable poorer countries to address their own health needs and to reduce health and security threats to the UK.
  • A world-class pool of biomedical science professionals to undertake the research needed to tackle major diseases.

Collaboration between government, universities, research funders, the NHS and industry is essential to achieving this vision and, in recent years, there has been a welcome increase in cross-sector engagement and initiatives to encourage organisations to share expertise, skills and resources.

Innovation through partnership

In November 2009, the Academy?s FORUM held a meeting to look specifically at the importance of collaboration in the medical sciences. This meeting brought together leading figures from across the sectors and assembled a diverse audience to:

  • Showcase the importance of joint industry, academia and NHS collaborations
  • Promote relevant initiatives and funding schemes
  • Explore some of the barriers and levers to partnership activity.

A full report of the meeting will shortly be available at:

Attendees at the meeting heard that the UK is already home to many impressive examples of industry-academia collaborations, for instance:

  • Pfizer and the University College London Institute of Ophthalmology have developed a collaboration to advance the development of stem cell-based therapies.
  • AstraZeneca and the University of Manchester have developed a collaboration to deliver safe and effective medicines to patients.
  • GlaxoSmithKline, Imperial College London and the MRC have established a Clinical Imaging Centre.
  • The Division of Signal Transduction Therapy (DSTT): a collaboration between scientists in the MRC Protein Phosphorylation Unit and the College of Life Sciences at the University of Dundee and AstraZeneca, Boehringer Ingelheim, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck-Serono and Pfizer.

New initiatives from both the NHS National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and the government?s Office for Life Sciences (OLS) have been important in further promoting innovative partnerships between academia, industry and the NHS. The OLS Blueprint includes steps to foster greater collaboration, mostly notably through a new UK Life Science Super Cluster. This will consist of individual ?Capability Clusters? in specific therapeutic areas, designed to encourage academic and NHS centres to work more closely with industry on early clinical development of new drugs and interventions.

As a result of these and other developments, partnerships across the sectors are being forged and strengthened; the planned UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation (UKCMRI) is one prime example. Such projects can leverage substantial support from industry and allow the UK to capture industrial investment as companies externalise more of their R&D. Great science depends on great scientists and we must also continue to create supportive environments that foster and inspire our existing talent and encourage the return of UK talent from overseas.

A key priority is to promote the mobility of researchers between industry and academia ? in order to exchange skills, to forge opportunities for cross-sector working and to promote mutual awareness.


UK medical sciences operate from a position of considerable advantage. However, building on past success will require new ways of working. The future of a flourishing life sciences community lies in collaboration and partnership. Uniting researchers and expertise from across sectors will be crucial to seizing new scientific opportunities, reaping the rewards, and sustaining the UK?s position as the best country in the world for medical research

Professor Sir John Bell, FRS, HonFREng, PMedSci

Image related to: Academia, industry and the NHSProfessor Sir John Bell, FRS, HonFREng, PMedSci

Professor Sir John Bell is president of the Academy of Medical Sciences and Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University. John was one of the founder Fellows elected to the Academy in 1998 and he became president in 2006.He is also the Chairman of the Office for the Strategic Coordination of Health Research (OSCHR). John is a founding director of three biotechnology start-up companies and sat on the Scientific Advisory Board for AstraZeneca from 1997 to 2000.

He has sat on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Roche Palo Alto facility since 1998 and has been a non-executive director of Roche AG (since 2001). John is a member of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Scientific Advisory Committee and has been a member of Oxford University Council and MRC Council; he is a board member of the UK Clinical Research Collaboration and UK Biobank and is chairman of the Oxford Health Alliance, a private-public partnership that sponsors research and advocacy on chronic disease globally.

Added the 26 April 2010 in category Innovation UK Vol6-1

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