Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Dr Tadataka Yamada, MD, Research and Development, SmithKline Beecham Pharmaceuticals


  The past decade has seen a profound shift in UK science policy, driven by scientific, technological, economic, political and societal factors. The start of the transformation can be traced back to the decision to transfer responsibility for science from the Department of Education and Science to the new Office of Science and Technology, and to publication of the Science White Paper in 1993. This document, Realising our Potential, has been highly influential in setting out the priorities for publicly-funded research, in providing a new framework for the Research Councils, in identifying the likely determinants of competitiveness and in introducing the Technology Foresight Programme.

  SmithKline Beecham welcomed the policy initiatives and we have committed ourselves to playing our part in addressing the challenges. Hard choices must still be made in reconciling infinite demand with finite resources in education, research and health care. We share the enthusiasm for coherence and consistency in policy, to capitalise on current opportunities so as to maintain the rank of the UK among the leading scientific nations and to educate a new generation for a world shaped increasingly by accelerating pace of technological change, but we have concerns as outlined in this paper.

  The issues that need to be addressed continue to resonate globally. How large a scientific enterprise do we need? How do we set priorities? How do we measure success? How can we strengthen government-industry-university partnerships? How do we engage the public-at-large?

  The pharmaceutical sector is a UK success story based on innovation and sustained R&D investment. The science base contributions to that success were discussed in detail at the Science and Technology Committee's Inquiry on the proposed merger between SmithKline Beecham and GlaxoWellcome. In brief, the science base is important to SmithKline Beecham in three principal areas:

    —  provision of well-trained researchers;

    —  access to knowledge that underpins our understanding of disease and the technologies that help to develop innovative medicines;

    —  support for lifelong learning to update our skills.

  SmithKline Beecham has created an internal culture of lifelong development of knowledge and skills, and we do not act as a passive customer for the outputs from the education system. We make a major contribution to student training—supplying industrial experience though Sandwich (undergraduate) and CASE Award (PhD) programmes and vacation work projects and we also support a wide range of research collaborations, joint academic appointments and endowments.

  There is room for optimism in seeing science policy recently move nearer to the heart of decision-making and political action. But, much more can be done to build coherence in policy for bioscience research across the full spectrum of education and training, technology transfer and fiscal and regulatory frameworks, as well as to reverse the decline in laboratory infrastructure in universities and create state-of-the-art science teaching and computational resources in schools. The 1993 White Paper provided a major impetus for change; capitalising on the extra funding and the mandate for change charted by recent government initiatives, requires not only selectivity and focus but also pluralism and partnership, and an understanding of what the many users of research want. The UK has achieved much in developing dialogue and partnership between government, academia, industry and other research funders (such as Medical Research Charities). In aggregate this is a singular research resource. In looking to future strategy developments we see some important opportunities and challenges in building on this partnership. In particular, we need to develop new forms of research infrastructure (for example, in health informatics), to identify best practice to facilitate technology transfer, to work towards informed public debate on contentious issues, to create an integrated strategy across government to promote innovation and avoid the silo budget mentality. In the rest of this paper, we elaborate on these priorities in the context of reviewing how the 1993 White Paper has been important.


  We agree with the recent conclusion made in the Forward Look inquiry by the Science and Technology Committee—the Forward Look should resume its annual publication to provide a clear and updated strategy for Science, Engineering and Technology. The Forward Look report represents a critical resource for auditing progress in pursuit of the key objectives in science policy across government. For example, the decline in civil departments' R&D investment, highlighted recently by the Science and Technology Committee, is a cause for continuing concern and must be monitored closely, even though there is much to welcome in the renewed funding of other elements of the science base (for example, the Joint Infrastructure Fund).

  We support many of the other recent recommendations from the Science and Technology Committee's inquiry on the Forward Look. We agree that:

    —  the Forward Look should seek to match expenditure figures more specifically to policy objectives and the achievement of departmental science strategies;

    —  national competitiveness should be added as an objective for science expenditure, complementing the objectives on wealth creation and improved quality of life;

    —  the co-ordination role of the Office of Science and Technology and the Chief Scientific Adviser should be enhanced, with a more explicit remit to intervene, where necessary, with departments;

    —  the Chief Scientific Adviser may require additional support to carry out his transdepartmental co-ordination role effectively;

    —  the role of the Ministerial Science Group should be clarified and expanded to oversee the Office of Science and Technology in its co-ordination role and to act as a forum for resolving disagreements.

  Other key recommendations from the Science and Technology Committee Forward Look inquiry are addressed further in the following sections.


  We enthusiastically supported the creation of the Technology Foresight initiative, designed to achieve a culture change by better communication, interaction and mutual understanding between the scientific community, industry and government departments. We have long employed foresight techniques in our own R&D; as an active participant in the national Technology Foresight programme, SmithKline Beecham shared its experience of forward thinking on markets and technologies and gained access to new partnerships with academic and other research groups. For example, through the Technology Foresight programme, SmithKline Beecham came together with the British Heart Foundation, the Wolfson Foundation and Addenbrookes NHS Trust in a major consortium to pursue fundamental research for chronic degenerative diseases associated with ageing.

  We have remained enthusiastic and active participants in the second round of Foresight but we raised a number of points at the consultation stage and these issues are not yet entirely resolved:

    —  the choice of cross-sectoral themes, such as "Ageing Population" is an attractive way forward to build wider public interest and to catalyse dialogue for the longer-term. But, in creating this new layer of aggregation, and as the objectives broaden, it is ever more necessary to ensure the alignment of Foresight activity with other strategic initiatives and current programmes rather than positioning Foresight as an isolated initiative in innovation. Our doubts remain that various government initiatives involving the Department of Trade and Industry (eg Foresight, Genome Valley, Biotechnology Clusters, Pharmaceutical Industry Competitiveness Task Force) are completely integrated;

    —  there was a general perception that government departments did not (and do not) see themselves as part of the principal audience for Foresight, particularly with regard to analysis of issues and delivery of implementation plans. There is still little evidence of developing coherence in science and innovation policy across Whitehall in consequence of the Foresight programmes. This is not just a matter of exporting Foresight priorities from the Office of Science and Technology to other departments but, also, using Foresight-like processes to inform policy development everywhere;

    —  the increasing enthusiasm to embrace those businesses not currently actively involved in R&D must be interpreted cautiously if it is not to become the pursuit of lame ducks and sunset industries. The Small and Medium enterprises (SME) sector is not homogenous and should not receive excessive attention since SMEs do not automatically represent the most important vehicle for new employment and wealth creation;

    —  lessons learnt from foreign Foresight exercises showed that most fail at the implementation stage. Scepticism about the value of Foresight will remain if there is not persuasive evidence of beneficial impact and this is a challenging goal because many of the process benefits (building networks) may be intangible. Foresight exercises are effective in identifying the opportunities and problems but Foresight initiatives must also galvanise the efforts to arrive at the solutions to problems. To reiterate—in addition to better linking with budget prioritisation and informed policy generation, Foresight has the potential to be a central feature in coherent government strategy for science and innovation and in the development of a supportive community-at-large. But, frankly, these objectives for cultural change have not yet been met;

    —  while many in R&D-intensive industry remain enthusiastic about the Foresight concept, it is critical that the exercise is properly resourced by the Office of Science and Technology. There is current evidence of rather variable support across the Panels with insufficient funding overall. Without greater government commitment, Foresight will not realise its potential.


  We do not feel competent to judge on the wisdom of abolishing the Advisory Council on Science and Technology and its replacement with the Council for Science and Technology but we are not aware that consultation across the science base constituencies or transparency of decision-making has improved in consequence.

  What is important in optimising the mechanisms for advisory bodies is that there is joined-up government thinking in science and innovation policy. Recent government initiatives have delivered significant progress in developing an innovation framework of policies and instruments and the commitment to major science-based activities such as Foresight remains critically important. But, for innovation and competitiveness in the biosciences-based sector, coherent advice and decision-making requires the advisory mechanisms to address several other vitally-important aspects:

    —  in ensuring that relevant regulations, whether emanating within the UK or at the European Union level, or at the regional planning level, are science-based to create an environment in which R&D can flourish;

    —  in ensuring a strong legal framework to protect Intellectual Property in order to reward innovation in an era of escalating R&D costs;

    —  in ensuring that the awareness of the value of research and innovation (measured in both social and economic terms) is appropriately encouraged in the community at large;

    —  in ensuring that government itself acts as an informed customer for innovation—for example, there is significant need for the NHS to develop the required receptivity to embrace innovative medical products and services and for government and industry to work in partnership to deliver cost-effective medicine. Medicines reduce overall health care costs because they are the most cost-effective interventions for disease, but this benefit (and, thus, the full benefit of innovative research) is impossible to realise in a UK environment based on health budgets that are compartmentalised by siloed cost centres.


  The objective of improving this interchange is central to all the points that we make in this paper. UK competitiveness requires that the increased funding for university research and infrastructure is prioritised strategically in pursuit of excellence, that there is increasing institutional mission differentiation and that the commitment to better partnership for technology transfer is further progressed. We believe that fostering relationships with established innovative firms is at least as important—probably much more important—than stimulating spin-offs from university research. While UK linkages are better than in many other European countries, we can still do better, by understanding and sharing best practice, in facilitating the transfer of intellectual property from academia to industry in order to realise the practical applications of innovation. For example, how effective are science parks and the various incubator models? Should the UK emulate the US successful application of Small Business Innovation Grants? The 1993 White Paper was a good start in exploring new approaches to knowledge transfer but much more is now needed in terms of analysis and dissemination of the critical success factors.

  We recommend that the assessment of science base activities for Higher Education Funding Council purposes will require a wider range of weighted criteria than used previously, covering not just publication record but relevance of quality research (aligned with Foresight), links with teaching, impact and value to customers of research (particularly industry). We ask that the current Funding Council Fundamental Review is rigorous in addressing the fundamental issues. In support of the goals of mission differentiation, pluralism and industry interaction, it is important to find new ways to encourage secondment between industry, academia (and government) so that perspectives and competencies are better shared. However, R&D-intensive industry does not ask that universities take on the primary role for applied research and development work—we look to the science base for the longer-term and "blue skies" perspective.

  The recent third stream initiative, "Higher Education Reach Out to Business and the Community" fund is a welcome experiment that may merit increasing resources providing that this venture is strategically well-integrated with the networking framework of other university-industry links initiated by different government departments

  The degree to which entrepreneurship can be taught is debatable but Higher Education Institutions do need to communicate enhanced awareness of business, management competencies, the innovation process and the opportunities for public support of innovation. A general understanding of the importance of patent protection in enabling innovation is also highly desirable but this does not mean that universities should be encouraged to hold and develop their own patents—this task is often better assigned to industry.

  Since the 1993 White Paper, much has been written about the importance of improving the flow of skilled scientists to industry and we will not now repeat all the points agreed during the Committee's inquiry on the SmithKline Beecham-GlaxoWellcome proposed merger. We would like, however, to take this opportunity to emphasise two issues:

    —  by comparison with the US; the UK can do much more in building diversity in its workforce, stimulating creativity, by encouraging greater recruitment from outside the UK, from Europe and elsewhere. The UK should continue to take a lead in Europe in encouraging student and researcher mobility and, more generally, should take a less restrictive approach to work permits and visa arrangements;

    —  we are concerned at the flow of clinical researchers into industry and, in particular, we are worried that the proposed revalidation procedures being developed by the General Medical Council may have an, unintended, adverse effect upon the recruitment of highly-qualified physicians. If talented physicians become unwilling to join the pharmaceutical industry because they fear that it will be difficult to return to clinical practice, then companies would not be able to maintain their present, extensive clinical research base in the UK.


  It is generally agreed that government can and should do better to recognise and reward innovation, but there is a danger that innovation policy becomes preoccupied with the SME sector, confusing the objectives of innovation policy and employment policy.

  Nonetheless, since the Science White Paper and in consequence of the series of Competitiveness White Papers, there has been significant progress on resolving management, regulatory and financing issues for SMEs and for commercialising university research. The European Business Environment Simplification Task Force comprehensively explored the barriers for innovative SMEs across Europe and their recommendations (on venture seed capital, tax rates, capital allowances, incentives for mentoring) provide a rational starting point for action.

  But, many start-up companies are moribund because they lack a viable business plan. Rescuing this tail of mediocrity should not be a priority for government. It is vitally important that incentives to invest in innovation are as applicable to the established innovative companies as to the SMEs. Spin-out of technology and people from larger companies will become a major source of start-ups and large companies also help SMEs to flourish by acting as partner and customer. It is essential to understand, however, that large, successful, R&D-intensive companies have also created an internal environment of entrepreneurship—their creativity should not be judged only in terms of their relationships with SMEs. We are highly interested in the recent recommendation from the Science and Technology Committee (Forward Look Inquiry) that there is a strong case to be made for extending R&D tax credits to large companies and, moreover, to cover the costs of market research and product launch within the scope of tax credits.


  The modification of the Research Councils in consequence of the White Paper recommendations has been broadly positive. We find that, in developing best practice, the Research Councils have been proactive in seeking industry's advice on research funding priorities and the mechanisms by which their funds are disbursed. There is still some variability in these respects between the Research Councils—the best should serve as a model, with regard not only to practice, but also to structure, and a commonality of approach between the Research Councils would improve their effectiveness.

  The potentially greater co-ordination between Research Councils, exemplified, by the recent over-arching statement of their future instrumentation and technology needs (Long Term Technology Review) is greatly welcome. We applaud the recognition of the need to establish multidisciplinary programmes across the Research Councils, the alignment with the activities underway in Foresight and the enthusiasm to collaborate with industry. This over-arching, Long Term Technology Review is a highly-important development in taking forward the three key issues for the Research Councils: Quality, Interdisciplinarity, Partnership.

  We wish to take this opportunity to emphasise two general concerns associated with taking forward these objectives:

    1.  The continuing difficulties in providing career progression for fixed-term contract research staff and in properly funding PhD students (by comparison with the higher stipends offered, for example, by The Wellcome Trust and Imperial Cancer Research Fund). We welcome recent Research Council proposals for greater flexibility in support for doctoral-level training; we believe the remedy is to reduce the number of studentships (and, perhaps, go to four year studentships) but increase the stipend. We also urge the Research Councils to continue to experiment with a range of funding models to ensure the subsequent encouragement of the younger, less-established researchers, early in their careers.

    2.  The continuing issues relating to the translation of basic into clinical research and the problems with training clinical researchers (as described in previous reports from the Rex Richards Inquiry and the Academy of Medical Sciences). These issues—vitally important in facilitating knowledge transfer—can also be addressed by building further partnership between the Research Councils industry, other medical research funders and the NHS. But, our worries on clinical research training compound our growing concerns on other aspects of the UK clinical R&D environment. For example, there are significant issues for pharmaceutical companies with respect to prolonged start-up times for clinical trials in NHS facilities, for the transparency and level of costs imposed (high overheads) and because fragmented capacity at NHS sites creates problems for achieving critical mass in patient recruitment. There are also unrealised opportunities. The NHS is a substantial but underused research resource—for example in population genetics and in health outcomes—and there is significant potential for building partnership by sharing data and analyses in order to deliver improved quality health care and to develop better clinical research training. Reinforcing the point made earlier, we need to establish the infrastructure to permit adequate capture of health care and health economic data in order to ascertain the impact of innovative therapeutic solutions to medical conditions.


  The public is not an homogenous group. Scientists and policy-makers often err in their predilection for tailoring a desired message rather than engaging in scientifically-informed debate. It is easy for the community at large to feel underestimated and coerced. We agree that it is the responsibility of scientists, whether in academia, industry or public service, to do more to enunciate the benefits that can accrue from R&D. We support the many excellent recommendations from the recent House of Lords Science and Technology Committee Report on Science and Society, relating to the need for cultural change in favour of open and timely public debate with the Government giving a lead at European level in fostering public dialogue. As the recent Eurobarometer survey confirms, public attitudes toward research in Europe remain a significant problem. Furthermore, misguided attacks by opinion-leaders on genetic technologies and medical informatics (for example, in terms of exaggerated privacy concerns) increase public sensitivities and may severely restrict the R&D environment. We believe that industry can work in partnership with government, academia, NGOs and others to promote the sharing of perspectives and informed discussion.

  Young people are the key to achieving and sustaining the vision of the knowledge driven economy. We welcome the recent Government and other proposals relevant to developing science education: the Department for Education and Employment documents on the post-16 learning framework and on Teachers ("Meeting the challenge of change"); the national curriculum changes (from September 2000) and the Nuffield Foundation recommendations; the Council for Science and Technology recommendations on Science Teachers; the Capital Modernisation Fund to upgrade science laboratories; the incentives to increase specialist teacher recruitment and to promote long-term teaching performance. These initiatives are all valuable, provided that there is shared understanding of the goals and methods of measurement for monitoring impact. However, we believe that there are significant challenges still to be faced in providing effective support to teachers and attracting high quality recruits into the profession. This may require new incentives, it certainly requires that teachers are themselves given the opportunity to contribute to developing the learning process and that teachers are given better support through continuous professional development schemes and appropriate administrative support.

  SmithKline Beecham is committed to maintaining the reputation of the pharmaceutical industry as a leader in industry-schools liaison, at a local level—with links to more than 90 schools, events for more than 2,500 young people annually and hosting 50 work experience students this year—and more broadly. For example, we organise the Health Matters School Awards (secondary level school research projects in health-related subjects) across Europe and we sponsor science museum activities in several countries. We have worked with the British Association for the Advancement of Science during UK Science Week/Annual Festival to bring sixth-form students together from across Europe to learn about R&D and explore related social issues. We believe that our efforts with schools and the community at large have been highly useful—but there is room to do much more in an integrated way across Europe, First, however, it is necessary to find a mechanism to share best practice and we look to the forthcoming Science White Paper to provide a lead in proposing ideas to this end.


  Perspectives in national science policy and strategy have changed for the better since Realising our Potential. For example:

    —  initial scepticism about Foresight has been allayed by recognition of the value of building broader partnerships between academia and industry;

    —  R&D evaluation has become a routine objective embedded in research funder's expectations;

    —  the research community no longer assumes that concerns expressed by the public at large and their elected representatives can be countered by scientists merely speaking more loudly, scientists are now more ready to learn about public expectations, the effect of the media and the impact on Whitehall;

    —  the concerns expressed about declining public funding, the consequent decay in research infrastructure and employer difficulties in recruiting and academic collaboration were heard and have begun to be addressed by infusion of additional funds.

  This progress is highly welcome but we must avoid the false dawns and frustrated expectations that characterised some earlier epochs in science policy. There is, of course, much more to be done in resolving the problems identified in the 1993 White Paper and taking forward the debate into the 2000 White Paper: prioritising public investment in science and maintaining long-term commitment to R&D; optimising the curriculum and its delivery in schools' science; promoting innovation across government; facilitating translation of R&D advances into improved health care and quality of life. Pervading all these issues is the co-operativity challenge—ensuring that government, academia, industry and the other research-funders work together to exploit the new opportunities. To reiterate our previous points, building partnership will require developing new forms of research infrastructure, for example, in constructing and sharing medical information databases; will require facilitation of technology transfer, will require a coherent, integrated view across government to promote innovation and avoid the silo budget mentality. The building of public-private partnership must remain central in UK science policy activities. It is essential to be radical in UK agenda-setting to these ends and in energising the next generation of scientists, innovators and policy-makers.

6 June 2000

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