ABPI Meeting paints an exciting picture of the UK as a centre for pharmaceutical R&D

Written by Amanda Pulfer on Friday 17th May 2019

Dr Mark Caulfield (Chief Scientist, Genomics England) inspired the audience with a talk outlining how the Genomics England project enhances the attractiveness of the UK for life sciences research by translating UK’s world-class genomic science into leadership in genomic medicine.  Their data assets include the UK Biobank with phenotyping and imaging data from 0.5 million patients.  However, Genomics England recognises that their current data do not reflect the diversity within the UK population, with the majority of subjects being white, and there are particular areas of health concern in the non-white population including cardiometabolic disease and mental health.  The East London Genes and Health programme is working to address this gap in the data by recruiting 100,000 people with Bangladeshi and Pakistani backgrounds.  It is hoped that this will facilitate drug discovery through improved understanding of the influence of genetic mutations on disease.

Dr Caulfield also highlighted some of the early successes of the 100,000 Genome project.  So far, 109,000 whole genomes have been sequenced, including 84,000 from subjects with rare diseases and 24,000 with cancer, which has led to more accurate diagnoses. As a result, one in four of the patients with a rare disease have received a new diagnosis and 50% of cancer patients were offered the opportunity to join a clinical trial or a new treatment.

Genomics England

As well as supporting recruitment into clinical trials, Genomics England is looking to facilitate research in the UK in other ways.  Currently, data are only available to researchers through application to the National Genomics Service; however, plans are underway for open access to data for continued follow up and future recall for research and clinical trials.

Andrew Foxley (Astra Zeneca) shared his view of the challenges and opportunities provided by the potential ‘golden age’ of drug development that is tantalisingly within our grasp.  There are a number of key drivers that have led us to the current position: an increasingly ageing population, technology informing patients of what they may be missing out on, rapid advances in science and technology, and the balancing of science with sustainability in terms of the size of highly selected populations. 

He stressed that the right infrastructure will need to be in place to deliver on this promise, particularly in relation to clinical trials:

  • Reconsidering  the definition of endpoints in the era of early disease detection and early treatment to delay progression.
  • Moving beyond the eCRF to increase the speed of data acquisition through technology.
  • Global harmonisation of the regulatory and ethical framework.

The UK is in a strong position to lead on this, with a stable patient population suitable for long term follow up, strong academic and industry partnerships, a focus on science and a world-leading regulator.  Opportunities include automated data extraction and analysis, and data linkage and use of real-world evidence to study patients in routine clinical settings.

Andrew echoed the view of many of the conference speakers - the opportunity is here, it is now and it needs to be grasped as a matter of urgency - all stakeholders will need to work together to realise this including MHRA, NHS Digital, HTA bodies, the life sciences industry and most importantly, patients.  The Life Sciences Industrial Strategy has already led to a second sector deal and is considered to be the best prepared sector in the face of a potential Brexit.

If you would like to understand more about the key messages at ABPI or to help with your Real World Evidence and Market Access needs, then please contact us below:

Dorinda Hickey, Joint Managing Director, OPEN VIE


Amanda Pulfer, Strategic Director, OPEN VIE


+44 (0) 1628 481112