British medical research is hampered by bureaucracy which is driving clinical trials abroad, according to a report by the Academy of Medical Sciences.
The report was led by Sir Michael Rawlins, chairman of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, who said that the funding of health research had improved over the last ten years, but challenging restrictions were preventing the sector from benefiting from the extra capital.
Rawlins notes that the European clinical trials directive, which took effect in 2004, was implemented more restrictively in the UK than elsewhere. Even without the legislation, which is being reviewed by the European Commission, Rawlins said that the NHS is riddled with bureaucracy, above all the insistence by individual NHS trusts on carrying out its own checks, which slows down the approval process.
In the last decade, Britain’s global share of participants in clinical trials has fallen from six per cent to two per cent, and Cancer Research UK estimates that unnecessary legislation adds ten per cent to medical research costs. David Gillen of Gilead Sciences said that more biotech and pharmaceutical companies would come to Britain but for the unhelpful regulatory environment.
The report recommends replacing the collection of approval processes with a single health research agency that would oversee all medical research. Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said that such an agency would reduce the time it takes researchers to get approval for their studies to 60 days, around a fifth of the time it currently takes.
The Labour government commissioned the report early last year, but its findings have been welcomed by the coalition health secretary Andrew Lansley and science minister David Willetts.