Friday 22 June 2018 by Dr Sheuli Porkess, Deputy Chief Scientific Officer, the ABPI
In this special year, both the NHS and the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) are celebrating our respective 70th anniversaries. The histories of these two organizations have been inextricably linked since 1948 and our relationship with the NHS continues to go from strength to strength.
The NHS is a source of great pride for the vast majority of us. The health service is driven by the doctors and nurses and the other frontline staff who deliver the high-quality care, and we have all relied on them at some point of our lives to help us and our families get better. But the NHS is not exclusively responsible for our health.
Scientists and clinicians in pharmaceutical companies work closely with doctors, pharmacists and nurses in the NHS to bring medicines to patients. Today, over 80% of the medicines used by the NHS have been researched and developed by pharmaceutical companies that are members of the ABPI.
In 2016 alone, the industry invested over £4.1 billion just in the UK on R&D, looking for breakthroughs for conditions like cancer, dementia and rare genetic diseases. There are 7,000 potential new medicines in the pipeline right now that may someday benefit the NHS.
70 years of medicines progress
Over the past seven decades the pharmaceutical industry has been researching and developing medicines and vaccines which have transformed healthcare, both in Britain and globally.
Breakthroughs in medicines have contributed to HIV no longer being a death sentence but a chronic manageable disease; cancer survival rates in the UK doubling over the past 40 years; millions of prevented heart attacks; and Hepatitis C being able to be cured with a 12-week course of treatment.
This is by no means an exhaustive list but gives a sense of the great achievements made by trailblazing scientists and the future of medicines will look vastly different than it does today.
We know there’s more to do – both in the science behind treatments and in our work to ensure NHS patients have access to the latest innovations – but together, I’m confident we can make the UK one of the best places in the world to research, develop, manufacture and launch new medicines and vaccines.
Developing the medicines of tomorrow
I believe that in 2018 we are truly in a golden age of medicines development. Scientists are already working on medicines and treatments, such as gene editing, synthetic biology and cell therapy for diabetics, that will transform the patient experience and change disease as we know it.
Together, with the NHS, the UK can be a pioneer of science. Hemophilia B patients can now benefit from targeted treatment on the gene which aids blood clotting. Advances in understanding how cells monitor and repair damaged DNA enables us to develop game-changing treatments for cancer. Progress in immuno-oncology means patients’ own immune cells can be used to attack cancer cells, and stem cell therapy is treating rare sight conditions.
We see AI and synthetic biology used for researching and treating malaria, HIV and hepatitis. Gene-editing technology is happening in our labs right now, identifying new disease targets, accelerating the discovery of novel treatments.
We know that the British public are proud of these achievements. In April, the ABPI polled over 3,000 people in Britain and found that 58 per cent would be willing to advance healthcare by providing a sample of blood for a national DNA database for medical research, 66 per cent would be willing to allow the NHS to use their healthcare data and 57 per cent would be willing to register as an organ donor. If representative of the wider population, this snapshot poll shows that more than 30 million adults in Great Britain would be willing to personally participate in health research to advance medical science.
Right now, many of our members are involved in many collaborative and innovative partnerships with the NHS at a local level across the country to improve patient care and outcomes. One example is The Health Innovation Project in Manchester set up in 2017. This partnership between the 37 NHS organizations and pharmaceutical companies was established to improve the use and safety of medicines and use the unique data and information capabilities of the NHS to discover, develop and deliver new medicines and treatments for patients. It will enable the £1 billion spent on medicines in the region to be as effective as possible. This one example shows how by working together we can achieve so much more for patients.
New science is so complex that no one organization can hold all the knowledge to make new medicines singularly. To continue this exciting journey in medical research, science needs to be done in partnership with academia, the NHS, medical research charities and pharma companies working together so patients can benefit from these new medicines. And this is what the NIHR aims to achieve.
The future of healthcare is an exciting one. We are working with Government, the NIHR and the NHS to find the right solutions for all: patients, the NHS and the UK economy. With innovations in genomics, healthcare data, advanced therapies and innovative technologies, our industry provides progress and hope, so we can help patients live longer, healthier and productive lives. I for one, am looking forward to continuing to work with the NHS to make this happen.