The state of clinical research in the UK

Posted on: Wednesday 5 April 2023
Author: Policy and Communication Group and Clinical Trials Expert Group

The clinical trials and research space in the UK is under scrutiny more than ever. The ABPI has highlighted a 41% fall, between 2017 and 2021, in the number of industry clinical trials initiated in the UK. (Graph 1) [1]

In the same timeframe, the UK has fallen from 4th to 10th place globally for number of Phase III industry clinical trials initiated. (Graph 2) This has impacted UK patients, putting them at a disadvantage in getting early access to innovative medicines. Additionally, this damages the reputation of the UK as a hub for skills and knowledge – as well as the wider UK economy. The UK Government is more than aware of this and has started to rectify the situation. This is evidenced in the bold vision of the Recovery, Resilience and Growth (RRG) programme. [2]

Other efforts to boost clinical research in the UK are outlined in the March 2021 report ‘Saving and Improving Lives: The Future of UK Clinical Research Delivery’. [3]

Graph 1

The recent budget added further positive steps with a financial boost across several areas of industry, including for the MHRA. Lord O’Shaughnessy has been tasked by the UK Government to conduct an independent review of the UK commercial clinical trials landscape, building on the RRG programme and focusing on later phase commercial clinical trials. FPM eagerly awaits the outcome of his review and recommendations.

Despite these recent positive steps, there are still questions. Given the UK’s clinical expertise in established areas such as oncology and breakthrough areas such as rare diseases, it is yet to be seen how and when this expertise shall be leveraged.

Graph 2

The Government’s response to the consultation on legislative proposals for clinical trials, which was published 21 March 2023 [4], is a welcome proposal for the UK. Whilst many actions are poised to ensure the UK is more attractive for industry trials, there are also plans that some companies may not view as beneficial.

FPM has a mission to advance the science and practice of pharmaceutical medicine by working to develop and maintain competence, ethics and integrity and the highest professional standards in the specialty for the benefit of the public. Through the expertise of our membership, many of whom are working at the front line of clinical research in the UK, FPM is in a unique position to develop and enable additional recommendations. Therefore, the Policy and Communications Group and the Clinical Trials Expert Group have come together to review the current landscape and planned solutions for UK clinical trials.

Ultimately, it is patients that need to see the benefits from any recommendations and financial inputs. The importance of improving UK access to industry sponsored interventional clinical trials cannot be underestimated .

The joint PCG and CT Expert Group policy paper is currently being drafted – watch this space for its final publication in a few months’ time.