The UK’s Health Safety Agency (UKHSA) has launched a 10-year science strategy, setting out how science can save more lives and contribute to Britain’s ambition to become a global science superpower.
That strategy set how UKHSA scientific capabilities – including genomics, vaccine evaluation, surveillance, data science, diagnostics and toxicology – will be deployed to prepare for future health safety hazards, respond to current threats to save lives, reduce harm, protect livelihoods, and ultimately building UK health insurance capacity.
The plan points to investment in a scientific workforce and deeper partnerships with industry and academia to achieve a set of goals.
“For the UK to really take the lead, old clinical trial dinosaurs have to evolve – and fast.”
Michael Young, co-founder of Lindus Health and former No. 1 life science adviser. 10
One of its goals is to predict and anticipate health threats, through unique and expert skills in genomics, data science, and surveillance, including surveillance of disease vectors (such as mosquitoes and ticks).
UKHSA also hopes to create a safer environment, by increasing understanding of environmental threats and building scientific defenses against these hazards, as well as reducing and eliminating health threats, by strengthening scientific evidence supporting health protection programs.
Another aim is to unlock the potential of scientific assets, and secure the legacy of the pandemic to increase the impact of science on health and economic prosperity, strengthen vaccine development and diagnostics as well as evaluation and data science.
Science the ‘backbone’ of the COVID response
Isabel Oliver, chief scientific adviser at UKHSA, said: “We are seeing state of the art possibilities during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic with genomic data enabling the rapid identification and characterization of variants enabling the rapid development and evaluation of diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics.
“Science is the backbone of the world’s response, helping us understand the virus, how to best protect ourselves, and ultimately live safely with the virus. UKHSA will use its unique scientific capabilities working with partners to protect lives and livelihoods from the health threats we face now and which we will detect, prevent and control in the future.”
Dame Jenny Harries, chief executive of UKHSA, said the new strategy would ensure the UK is prepared to address all current and future health threats quickly and effectively, securing the best health outcomes and greater prosperity for the country.
Developments include a new Center for Climate Security and Health, including the delivery of a five-year assessment report on the Health Effects of Climate Change. In addition, UKHSA said it is working in partnership to accelerate and expand its role in new diagnostics and develop the organization’s genome capabilities to detect threats to health quickly and effectively, and support the development of vaccines and therapeutics needed to protect health.
‘The ancient clinical trial industry‘
Life science companies also gave their say on this new strategy.
Mark Kotter, CEO and founder of bit.bio, told Labiotech: “Much work is being done across Government to ensure that the right strategies, partnerships and regulatory environment are in place to realize the UK’s vision as a leading science. superpower.
“However, to achieve this, the Government must help companies like bit.bio that are built on innovation and thrive rapidly open up major new sources of investment. At this stage, accessing investment is the biggest challenge, and without this support, many of the most attractive and high potential companies may have to look outside the UK or suspend their innovation paths.
Kotter said it was important to look at the regulatory process and learn from COVID to ensure new treatments and technologies could benefit patients as quickly as possible.
“As founder and CEO of a UK-based company, I look forward to continuing to play a role in enabling the UK to become a science superpower, where innovative science companies are supported to grow, thrive and make a big impact.”
Emma Harvey, head of global medical affairs at F2G, said: “I welcome UKHSA’s science strategy because it establishes an environment that fosters industry-academic collaboration, nurtures multiple perspectives that drives innovation and encourages discovery of breakthrough therapeutics that are rooted in scientific evidence, in addition to supporting ongoing monitoring efforts.
“The pandemic shows how far we are all connected regardless of geographic location, as well as showing how one disease increases the risk of other diseases, for example the high rates of invasive fungal diseases seen in patients with COVID-19. In the case of most infectious diseases, time is of the essence, so being able to take some of the important lessons from pandemics, and collaborate to predict, and quickly address public health threats is a step toward protecting against future disease outbreaks and anticipating what challenges they may pose. .
“This has the potential to be applied to a variety of areas of concern, including addressing the rise in drug-resistant invasive fungal infections and implementing surveillance efforts to track potential outbreaks. It may be a national strategy, but it has the potential to make a global impact.”
Evan Floden, bioinformatician and co-founder of Seqera Labs, told Labiotech: “UKHSA’s plan to embed genomics into the UK healthcare system will be a step change in how we can monitor and treat outbreaks of conditions like TB. , hepatitis C and HIV/Aids, as well as prediction and prevention of future health threats such as avian influenza and diseases carried by ticks and mosquitoes.
“What we learned from the pandemic is that laboratories have very different capabilities and resources for documenting the spread of disease, and data is often not presented in a standard way. By developing a plan to embed the practice into healthcare systems at the national level, UKHSA will establish and implement a framework that will address these issues and set industry standards for reporting and monitoring.”
However, says Floden, the technical delivery of these programs is complex – they require real-time data and analysis from researchers and scientists across the country, with potentially international input as well.
“As such, the technology that uses this analysis must be highly secure, compliant with strict data privacy laws, and accessible across multiple platforms and clouds. Genomics researchers working on the front lines of some of the most pressing areas of healthcare globally love an open source platform that allows them to collaboratively develop and standardize the diagnostic tools they use, as well as their testing data which is then analyzed to find trends. One example is how analysis of Covid-19 test results is being used to find new pathogens, or evidence that the virus is mutating.
“While many of these systems have long been embedded in medical research around the world and used to improve people’s lives in fields such as oncology and personal medicine, we are seeing a fast trend for countries working to embed them in more formal initiatives looking to leverage genomics and technology to keep populations safe from threats. Looking to the future, there is undoubtedly scope for genomics to form the basis for many more national and international collaborations to improve public health.”
Michael Young, co-founder of Lindus Health and former No. 1 life science adviser. 10, tells us: “Britain has all the tools to become a global life science superpower. We have an amazing R&D sector, but the industry is being held back by the antiquated clinical trial industry which means that new treatments can take up to 15 years to reach patients.
“We are now lagging behind countries like the US and Germany in terms of time it takes to approve new drugs and invest in trial infrastructure.
“We welcome that the Government is serious about supporting our clinical science and research sectors to reach their full potential. But for the UK to really take the lead, old clinical trial dinosaurs have to evolve – and fast.”
Clinical trials have long been in the spotlight, with calls for greater geographic and gender diversity, among other improvements. Last year, Medidata published a report, ‘European Industrial Research Report: The Future of Clinical Trials’. The report draws on new independent research that includes insights from 400 clinical trial executives in the UK, France, Germany and Switzerland.