By Claire West

Science Minister David Willetts and Health Minister Lord Howe today jointly launched a world-first initiative to boost partnership between academics, clinicians and the life sciences industry to deliver the medicines of the future faster to UK patients and to secure the UK’s position as the global partner of choice for research and development (R&D) collaboration.

The Therapeutic Capability Clusters programme will develop three-way partnerships between the life sciences industry, clinicians and academics. Collaborations will involve our best researchers in the NHS and academia working with industry researchers on promising new drugs and interventions. Together they will develop the best approaches to run experimental medicine studies and find novel ways to treating or diagnosing a whole range of inflammatory diseases.

Today’s announcement saw the launch of the first phase of this unique programme, establishing the first two clusters in inflammatory respiratory disease (such as asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)) and in joint and related inflammatory diseases (such as arthritis).

These clusters are the first in the world to be established around specific therapy areas. They will help to ensure that the UK’s world-class capabilities are harnessed so that experimental research is translated faster into innovative treatments that make a difference to people’s lives and help us to achieve our aim of having world-class health outcomes.

By providing a single point of contact for industry engagement, patient access and intellectual excellence, these clusters will help to ensure the UK has the commercial and cultural environment to support strong collaboration and to maintain and grow world-class private sector R&D in the UK.

During his speech Mr Willetts also announced plans by the Medical Research Council (MRC) to invest more than £10m in consortia in two disease areas, complementing the Therapeutic Capability Clusters programme.

The MRC/ABPI Inflammation and Immunology Initiative represents the first phase of a new approach in funding by the MRC, bringing together academics and industry at the early R&D stages to develop a stratified approach to disease (targeting the right treatments to the right people), enabling effective clinical trials as well as identifying novel biomarkers, mechanisms and targets.

Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts said:

“As Government works to rebalance and grow the UK economy, it is vital that the UK continues to be an attractive environment and the global partner of choice for collaboration in life sciences.

“These Therapeutic Capability Clusters are a world first and I am hugely excited by the potential they and the MRC/ABPI Inflammation and Immunology Initiative offer for UK R&D and our delivery of innovative medicines to patients faster in areas of unmet medical need.“

Health Minister Lord Howe said:

“These clusters build on the substantial investment in the NHS infrastructure for translational research, over £160million per year, that my Department makes available through the National Institute for Health Research.

“By pulling advances in basic science through into new ways of diagnosing and treating joint and respiratory disease, these two clusters will make a difference to the lives of thousands of patients in the NHS.”

The Ministers made the announcement while speaking at the BioIndustry Association (BIA) and the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) conference “Our vision for a new decade”.

Developed with industry under the Office for Life Sciences, the Therapeutic Capability Clusters programme is being overseen by the Office for Strategic Coordination of Health and Research (OSCHR).