Patients should be given experimental drugs by their GPs to speed up access to new medicines, a major government report has recommended.
Lord O’Shaughnessy carried out a widespread review of clinical trials in Britain and found it was falling behind in medical research.
He suggested a raft of reforms which include financial incentives for GPs who carry out community drugs and treatments trials on their patients at local surgeries or in their own homes.
Patients who receive genomic testing on the NHS should also be automatically asked to consent to their genetic data being used for research, the report recommends.
The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency has been told to cut red tape and speed up approvals for medicines. It has also been asked to approve clinical trials within 60 days of submission.
Figures from the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry show that the number of industry clinical trials started in the UK each year fell by 41 per cent between 2017 and 2021.
The Government said it had committed more than £120 million to making it easier for patients to take part in trials and Steve Barclay, the Health Secretary, said ministers would heed recommendations to speed up research.
The funding is part of a £650 million package to fund the UK’s life science sector and turn Britain into a science superpower.
Writing in The Telegraph Will Quince, Minister of State for Health and Secondary Care, said: “Cutting the time it takes for new medicines to reach patients is vital and has a direct impact on how patients recover faster or better manage conditions.
“We want to make it easier for more people to be a part of life-changing research and giving the option to take part in trials virtually will improve the scope of who wants to, or can take part.
“From cancer to obesity, these research studies can lead to billions of pounds in savings for the NHS and cut waiting lists through faster diagnosis and enhanced treatment.”
Lord O’Shaughnessy’s report said that the Covid pandemic had shown that life-saving vaccines and medicines could be made available quickly when unnecessary bureaucracy was removed.
The recommendations include actively seeking out patients who would benefit from experimental drugs and making it easier for people to see which trials are taking place so they can enrol.
Dr Ian Walker, executive director of policy, information and communications at Cancer Research UK, said community trials would speed up access to new medicines.
“Taking trials to sites outside of hospitals and cutting red tape will help get more trials up and running, get more patients joining trials and make faster progress towards new treatments,” he said.
Prof Andrew Morris, director of Health Data Research UK, added: “We have fallen behind many other international countries in a short space of time. This is devastating for pharma in the UK and its impact on jobs and the economy, but more importantly for patients.
“Involvement in clinical trials tends to make it more likely that patients can access new and effective treatments more quickly. The recommendations in the O’Shaughnessy review point to ways forward to reverse this decline.”
By Will Quince, minister of state for health
Clinical trials can often be stereotyped as a researcher with a microscope in a back room somewhere – but this is far from the case. They are crucial for discovering new medicines to diagnose, treat and prevent diseases like cancer and can save people’s lives both now and in the future.
The UK has already made significant progress to improve clinical research since the pandemic. Lord O’Shaughnessy’s welcomed review into clinical trials can help the medical research sector go a step further to not only ensure NHS patients can benefit from cutting-edge treatments faster, but also to unlock UK economic growth in supporting thousands of high-value jobs and attracting global investment, further supercharging our research potential.
Following his recommendations we have made five key commitments to improve how commercial clinical trials are brought to those who need it, backed by £121 million.
Cutting the time it takes for new medicines to reach patients is vital and has a direct impact on how they can recover faster or better manage conditions. There’s already evidence that we can reduce the set-up time of commercial studies by 45 per cent which shows our commitment to improving speed and efficiency in clinical research.
This will also make the UK a more attractive place for research, boosting investment.
But we can’t do any of this without the support of volunteers. Through their help researchers are finding medical breakthroughs and helping the NHS save lives – including curing one individual of cancer.
We want to make it easier for more people to be a part of life-changing research and giving the option to take part in trials virtually will improve the scope of who wants to, or can, take part.
A prime example is the National Institute for Health and Care Research’s Be Part of Research service which already has 150,000 people registered to be contacted about taking part in relevant research. It’s even available through the NHS app now and I encourage anyone eligible to sign up to the registry to play their part.
This makes it quicker and easier for patients to register their interest for certain studies and puts them at the heart of the research they want to be involved in. From cancer to obesity, these studies can lead to billions of pounds in savings for the NHS and cut waiting lists through faster diagnosis and enhanced treatment.
Part of this is making sure people have the right information about what clinical trials are taking place across the country. That’s why we’re investing £81 million through the NIHR to help provide “real-time” data on commercial clinical trials’ progress, making it easier for patients to make the decision to take part.
Our response to Lord O’Shaughnessy’s review highlights our collective recommitment to grow the UK science sector and reinforce our position as one of the world’s best places to conduct clinical trials. We’ve already seen through the ground-breaking Covid Recovery trial. This was set up in record time and was the world’s largest randomised controlled trial for Covid-19.
In addition to our commitments today, we will take forward some of the other actions in this review and incorporate them into our work to support commercial clinical trials.
I look forward to giving you a further update in the autumn which will outline progress, as well as respond in full to the remaining recommendations to help us to find new ways to speed up diagnosis, enhance treatment and continue to ensure the NHS is at the forefront of ground-breaking research.
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