Select Committee on Health Written Evidence


Memorandum by The Wellcome Trust (PI 93)

  The Wellcome Trust is pleased to respond to this inquiry into the influence of the pharmaceutical industry. The Trust is a major funder of biomedical research, with a mission "to foster and promote research with the aim of improving human and animal health". Biomedical research fenders cannot work in isolation: we see the pharmaceutical industry as a key partner in the process of translating research into healthcare benefits.

  The Wellcome Trust aims to support the translation process by providing "pump-priming" funding for promising early-stage projects, and access to key advice on intellectual property and product development. The aim of this support is to maximise the likelihood that an invention will be suitable for further development by either a start-up company or the pharmaceutical industry. We therefore see our role as funding basic research and supporting the development of this research to a point where it will be taken up by industry or by venture capitalists (VCs). This is mainly achieved through our translation funding programmes[80] and support for international public private partnerships such as the Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV).[81] This response concentrates on the influence of the pharmaceutical industry on the conduct of medical research and on the development of new drugs, as this is our main area of experience. It is in this context the Trust suggests that as part of its inquiry the Committee should consider a number of issues which I have set out below.

Market failure

  It is well documented that for a large number of diseases there is little or no commercial research and development being undertaken. These so-called orphan diseases include those that are the biggest killers in the developing world such as malaria and tuberculosis. It is clear that the market fails to provide the pharmaceutical industry with the necessary environment, predominantly financial return, to become involved with developing drugs for these orphan and developing world diseases. The Trust considers that it would be interesting to explore whether there are aspects of the regulatory environment which could be adapted so that it is more "fit for purpose" and as such reduce the financial burden in developing drugs for these areas.

There have already been a number of other initiatives, such as tax incentives, to encourage greater commercial R&D in these areas but the Trust is not aware if the effectiveness of these schemes has been evaluated as yet and the Committee could usefully explore with the pharmaceutical industry what their minimum requirements are to invest in a particular area.

Is there a widening gap between basic research and industry take up?

  The Lambert Review of Business-University Collaboration (published December 2003)[82] illustrated that there has been a general decline in industrial investment in UK R&D over the last 20 years. Whilst the pharmaceutical industry, and particularly new biotechnologies do better than other areas, the Trust feels there is an increasing trend for the pharmaceutical industry to licence research in, either from academia or more commonly from spinout companies, rather than develop in-house basic research. It might well be unlikely and in fact inappropriate for academic research to be drawn further along the product development pipeline in an attempt to fill this requirement. Eventually a gap may develop between what academia can deliver and what the pharmaceutical industry is prepared to invest or licence-in. It would be very useful if the Committee could explore whether this is an apparent or real trend.

Private Public Partnerships

  Public private partnership are a new, but as yet unproven, model for bringing together public, charitable and industry money to both share risk and produce research which is mutually beneficial. This has been particularly successful in areas where the research creates pre-competitive information and the SNPs consortium is a very good example of this.

  Product development public-private partnerships are one model trying to address the market failure in new drug and vaccine production particularly for those diseases most prevalent in the developing world. However, to date the Trust considers many of these PPPs have not been equal partnerships and particularly in international efforts such as MMV, the level of government support does not appear to match the commitment of the charitable foundations. PPPs will not be able to meet all future public health needs without significantly increased and equal levels of investment. It is worth noting that whilst these PPPs might improve the product development aspect of the pipeline there will still be many other areas such as product manufacture, marketing and distribution which will need addressing to eventually have an impact on the burden of disease itself. This will also require similar innovative ways of working between public and private stakeholders.

80   Further details about Technology Transfer at the Wellcome Trust can be found at Back

81   Further details about MMV can be found at Back

82 Back

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