Select Committee on Science and Technology Third Report

1  Introduction

Background to the Cooksey Review

1. In the March 2006 Budget, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP, announced a proposal to allocate £1 billion for funding UK health research through a new Single Fund. Under existing arrangements this research is funded in two separate streams through the Medical Research Council (MRC) and through the Department of Health (DH) NHS Research & Development (R&D) function. There has long been widely-held concern that the NHS R&D budget was not being spent effectively on R&D. An independent review, chaired by Sir David Cooksey, was commissioned by the Government to examine the best design and institutional arrangements for this new Single Fund for health research and how these arrangements would be implemented. The terms of reference for the Review included:

a)  ensuring that research priorities are closely matched to the Government's health objectives;

b)  funding and delivering world-class scientific research in basic, clinical and public health; and

c)  the translation of UK health research into economic and health benefits.

2. The final report was published on 6 December 2006[1] and accepted by the Chancellor, who announced in the December 2006 Pre-Budget Report that he would be "taking forward the recommendations of the Cooksey Review".[2]

3. The Review concluded that although good progress has been made in some areas, further work is needed to ensure that publicly-funded health research is carried out in the most effective and efficient way, and to facilitate translation of research findings into health and economic benefits. The report outlined a number of recommendations to the Government. In order to deliver an overarching health research strategy that brings together the separate funding streams administered by the MRC and the NHS Research and Development, it is proposed that two new bodies will be established. These are the Office for Strategic Co-ordination of Health Research (OSCHR) and the Translational Medicine Funding Board (TMFB). The OSCHR will be the central co-ordinating body for all health research (carried out by both the MRC and the NHS) and will report to the Department of Health and the Office of Science and Innovation (OSI). It will set the research budget and submit a single Spending Review bid to the Treasury. It will also work with the pharmaceutical and bioscience sectors, and identify public and private sector projects that address unmet health needs which will be designated 'UK Priority Health Research Projects'. The OSCHR will also develop expedited drug development pathways for new treatments. The existing institutional structures within the MRC will remain unchanged but the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) will become a real, rather than a virtual, agency to co-ordinate NHS Research and Development. The TMFB will lead on developing a translational research strategy in order to maximise the economic and health benefits of innovation.

The Committee's inquiry

4. We announced our intention to hold an evidence session with the Review author, Sir David Cooksey, on 6 December 2006. The Committee was particularly interested to explore the recommendations in the Review which will have an impact on the research funding function of the Medical Research Council, and those recommendations aimed at the OSI as part of the overall implementation of the new arrangements. These fall within the Committee's remit to scrutinise the OSI's activities. We also wished to explore more general questions surrounding the health research budget and proposed new mechanisms.

5. The transcript of the oral evidence session held on 24 January 2007 with Sir David Cooksey is published with this Report, along with the written memoranda submitted by seventeen organisations and individuals.

6. Most of the evidence we received (from organisations including The Royal Society, The Wellcome Trust, Guy's and St Thomas' and the South London Maudsley NHS Trust and Universities UK) welcomed the Review.[3] In particular, it is recognised that the UK will benefit from a coherent strategy to maximise the health benefits from the UK's research.[4] The Committee shares this view and broadly endorses the approach taken by Sir David Cooksey in his wide-ranging review of the UK's health research framework.

7. In this short Report we offer our comments and observations on particular issues which arose in the course of our oral evidence session with Sir David Cooksey.

1   HM Treasury, A Review of UK Health Research Funding, December 2006; Back

2   HM Treasury, 2006 Pre-Budget Report, Cm 6984, p 56, para 3.68 Back

3   Ev 12 Back

4   Royal Society response to the Cooksey Review of UK health research, Royal Society, January 2007, Back

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Prepared 15 March 2007