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The news that Pfizer is to close its R&D facility in Sandwich in Kent has shaken us from our sleepy winter hollows.
I’ve been watching the reactions and comments come over the wires as I am sure you have. This is clearly a company going through considerable transition as it tries to change with the times – see the Reuters round-up of their results today for a good insight. And essentially its the sort of hard-headed business decision that US companies seem prone to take about their global operations when restructuring.
So, a comment on Pfizer’s view of the UK as a place to do science? No. As a place to do business? Possibly.
But perhaps we should treat it as though it were the former. For, ultimately, the impact is the same. The loss of a world-class R&D facility in the UK. As others have said today, it shows we need to up our game in how the Government and those across research work with industry.
Meanwhile…and no link between the stories is intended…I’ve been absorbing today’s report by the European Commission (see also BBC News) ‘ Innovation Union Scoreboard’ It looks at the research and innovation performance of the 27 member states of the European Union. The basic story is that the UK is rated an ‘Innovation Follower’ (just outside the ‘Innovation Leader’ category) and is playing catch-up with those ahead of it at a slower rate than its peers in the ‘Follower’ group.
If you look at the country profile for the UK on page 50 it says some complimentary things about the UK having an ‘open, attractive, research systems’ and the stats show we are above average in the number of non-EU doctorate students (relevant to the immigration debate surely) and public R&D expenditure. On most of the remaining indicators the story is not so good.
The European Commission, whose way with words is to be eternally admired, says the report is evidence of an ‘Innovation Emergency.’ I am not sure what to do in an ‘Innovation Emergency’ are you? Other than look for my patent box of course.
So it’s 10pm and I’m busy here putting the final touches to the AMRC/INVOLVE report of the workshop we held in November which drew together patient views on health research regulation.
This was at the invitation of the Academy of Medical Sciences as part of their review of regulation and governance but – and all credit to them – we agreed that AMRC/INVOLVE will produce its own independent report of the event and I hope this will be out before Christmas.
Anyway, that’s just a bit of context for you. While writing, I listened to an excellent edition of ‘In Business’ entitled ‘Bitter Pills’ looking at changes in the pharmaceutical industry with a focus on GSK. Its worth a listen if you are interested in how the business model for pharma is changing fast.
Monday saw the Science Mnister, David Willetts, and Health Minister, Earl Howe, announce what are being called therapeutic capability clusters (research consortia) at the ABPI/BIA conference in London. PharmaLetter has an article on it and what I think is the formal news release can be found on Pharma Live.
Don’t be fooled by the PR speak which makes it sound as though this entity has just been launched. As the MRC comment implies, work on getting this thing off the ground has been going on for months – well before the General Election. But going public is significant in the sense it means that the potential hurdles standing in the way of its feasibility – like pharmaceutical companies sharing their data – have been overcome.
It’s unfortunate – he says in a rather grumpy way – that no one seems to have mentioned the involvement of some leading charity funders up to this point such as Arthritis Research UK. In actual fact it is worth pointing out that the Office for Strategic Co-ordination of Health Research (OSCHR) has been very pro-active in engaging releveant charities in the two therapeutic areas concerned – inflammatory and immune diseases.
On the back of the spending review I would also say that yesterday’s news is quite an important political vote of support for OSCHR and it’s role in engineering partnership working for clinical research. In the run-up to 20th October there were some whispers that OSCHR might change/migrate/vanish etc etc. But this very tangible initiative and the up-front way in which it is being badged with OSCHR’s name by Ministers indicates that its place in the world is much more scure.
In my potter around the conference exhibition this afternoon, I stumbled upon a stand for the ‘People’s Museum’ here in Manchester which charts the struggles of the working class and houses the Labour Party’s official archives.
I wish I had time to pop along if only to check whether my knowledge of political history is as good as I would like to think.
I won’t be the first to make the comparisons between the scenario inherited by Ed Milliband and that by Harold Wilson in 1963 – a demoralised party emerging from election defeat, the country faced by a massive deficit etc etc.
Almost to the day 27 years ago, Harold Wilson made his infamous ‘white heat of technology’ speech to the Labour Party conference in Scarborough. ‘The Britain that is going to be forged in the white heat of this revolution will be no place for restrictive practices or for outdated measures on either side of industry’ is what he actually said.
Brian Walden recounts in a BBC Online piece that later that day – 1 Oct 1963 – a trade union leader remarked that Harold Wilson had ‘captured science’. A strong statement indeed.
Ed Milliband’s speech today will no doubt be marked down as the ‘new generation’ speech and I understand his need to speak to his party above all at this time. But given the impassioned speeches I have heard from shadow ministers this week about the need for a good story on growth and the importance of science in that story I was disappointed that we did not even get a hint of either in the Ed’s opening gambit.
I looked back at the programme for the Scarborough Conference and noticed that Dick Crossman was also speaking on the same day as Wilson about the organisation of university research. Strange how these issues are cyclical, a shame that a sense of history is lost to us when facing the current.
I think Will Hutton said last night: ‘It is only science that can save us.’
Rumour has it that there is an outbreak of tonsilitis in the north-west at the moment…here’s hoping Ed Milliband is being kept in isolation until his leader’s speech this afternoon.
One thing I forgot to mention from last night’s meeting was David Lammy’s comment that the coalition government has yet to put together a convincing narrative for its growth strategy. We’ll have to see if Ed Milliband is able to do that today?
Meanwhile, I’ve heard positive things so far in terms of his stance on science. He has been interviewed in a special edition of a newsletter from ‘Scientists for Labour’ which is being hawked around here.
Imran Khan who is Director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) has blogged in The Guardian today about the science challenges facing Ed Milliband.
Andrew Miller MP, chair of the Science Select Committee who attended our breakfast this morning, said he was able to discuss life sciences and science strategy with Ed during the Labour leadership race.
The Manchester Town Hall bell tolled ominously as the 31 organisations around the table inside debated and discussed the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR). But the meeting covered a lot of ground and I hope it was helpful for Andrew to hear how the interplay between different issues is finely poised and fiddled with at the owner (government’s) risk unless based on sound exertise and advice.
One of the industry representatives there said that their global HQ regarded the UK as a ‘problem child’ not only because of the challenges of the spending review but also because of the poor uptake of medicines here. So, in the same vein, I hope that the Science and Technology Select Committee which can roam across all departments will see cause to look at the whole innovation pipeline in due course.
The town hall bell stopped I am pleased to say which gives me some hope that as another participant said ‘there is still all to play for’ ahead of the CSR announcement on 20th October. Indeed, Andrew Miller encouraged us to bombard parliamentarians and others with views and perspectives now and after that date to ensure our concerns are heard.
Remember, Science is Vital.
Policy-making is not immune to trends. The latest seems to be the ’roundtable’ meeting. I blame King Arthur myself (well, they say that trends do come round). But I bet he didn’t meet his knights at 9 or 8am.
This morning AMRC, the BioIndustry Association, Association of British Healthcare Industries and Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry held a roundtable breakfast entitled ‘Life Sciences – from research to patient.’
It was good to have the Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Moore MP, there – not least because Scotland has a good story to tell on science – as well as Julian Huppert MP, Roger Williams MP and Evan Harris.
With a wide spectrum of people from patient groups, charities, industry, academia and the NHS in the room the conversation ranged widely across many issues – science funding, regulation, science in parliament. It was a good follow-on from last night’s Royal Society meeting and as ever the politicians were asking for solutions and anwers to the issues facing them.
I was pleased that the Royal College of Surgeons and BMA raised the issue of enabling more doctors to undertake research and the general career path issues facing the clinical academics of the future and a number of people raised the possible issues for clinical research that will confront us with the new health economy that Andrew Lansley is intent on establishing and on which I have blogged before.
There also seemed some positive signs that the Coalition Government understand the need to at least describe the key elements of a long-term strategy on science to accompany the CSR annoucnement and help build confidence about the future.
We spent a good portion of the discussion on the proposed cap on non-EU migrants and its impact on science. Indeed, I get a sense at this week’s conference that there is now real momentum behind amending the plans so that they become more workable for science. Vince Cable’s remarks to the FT at the weekend have been well-reported, but I understand that the Home Affairs Select Committee is now digging around the issue and there certainly seems consensus here that something needs to be done pronto. Suffice to say we need to keep putting the evidence in.
Perhaps this issue will be one of those that might demonstrate how Coalition Government can truly work in the public interest, with one partner articulating at the most senior levels a body of opinion to which a single-party Government might otherwise be impervious. Let’s hope so anyway.
A passing thought before I head back to the conference. There is a strong coalition of public, charity and private sector of organisations here under the banner of the ‘Health Hotel’ which co-ordinate fringe meetings etc and have an exhibition stand.
Given the fact that research and science do not have major billing at this or the other conferences (albeit better than any previous one I have been to) I wonder whether all the science organisations should come together in a ‘Science Lab’ type coalition in future years.