Life belt for British biomedical industry
London - David Cameron plans to come to the rescue of Britain's embattled biopharmaceutical industry. The conservative prime minister has earmarked £180m (€210 million) to support a "biomedical catalyst fund" to back early-stage academic and biotech R&D at small and medium-sized development outfits. The fund is a package of reforms designed to make the country more attractive to big pharmaceuticals companies, Cameron said in a speech delivered on Monday. Apart from the money the package will include two main measures. The first one is a quicker use of experimental drugs in the patient. In an "early access scheme", seriously ill patients could use new drugs up to a year before they are fully licensed. The second measure has the opposition up in arms. In an unprecedented move, biopharma companies are planned to have access to patient records and other information from the database of the National Health Service. Sarah Chan, deputy director of Manchester University's Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovations, said to Reuters that "the wealth of data collected by the NHS represents a vast and potentially very valuable resource that could be used to facilitate highly beneficial research. The concerns over privacy and confidentiality...are perhaps overblown." The government acted because the life sciences and pharmaceutical industry in Britain has been increasingly under fire. In the heaviest blow yet, US-pharmaceutical company Pfizer announced in February 2011 to close its research and development site in Sandwich, which means the loss of more than 2,000 jobs.