Monday, 1 November 2010

Politics, governance and life science innovation: How to get more bang for the bucks you’ve already spent

At the Conservative Party Conference on 5 Oct 2010 Professor Joyce Tait raised the following points about policy, governance and life science innovation. Joyce’s talk was part of Innogen’s contribution to the 2010 EGN Party Conference Fringe Programme.

Investment in biotechnology and life science research is expected to stimulate innovation and the UK's economic recovery. While this investment is needed, Innogen research shows that it is radical changes in governance and regulatory systems for life sciences that will be the key to maximising public benefit (economically and societally) from the money already spent on scientific research and from future investments.

Government decisions about the regulation of new biotechnologies need to ensure safety and efficacy; they also need to enable products to reach a market place where they can contribute to economic and societal wellbeing. The current regulatory systems for life science related products are so complex, expensive and time consuming for things like new drugs, new therapies and new food crops that they are preventing potentially safe, useful and effective products from being developed. Indeed current regulation is excluding the very companies that could bring the most innovative products to the market.

Policy makers faced with choosing how to regulate new technologies need to broaden their vision to include the latest insights into how regulatory systems interact with company innovation strategies; this will determine which products reach a market place, as well as the structure and innovativeness of entire sectors (1). This broader vision could lead to a significant increase in the number of innovative technologies, based on currently funded and future research, brought to market and impacting positively on the health, energy, agriculture and environmental sectors.

We are not suggesting ‘deregulation’ or even the current ‘better regulation’ initiative in BIS. What is needed is a smarter, more systemic, targeted approach for the life sciences using modern technology and a new evidence base to deliver safety, efficacy and a more vibrant innovation environment. This systemic approach will be relevant to major multinational drug companies and the thousands of SMEs working in areas like stem cell therapies and diagnostics.

The UK has a long record of shaping and reforming European regulatory systems and is host to the European Medicines Agency. The kind of initiative being proposed here could improve our ability to respond to many pressing societal challenges, deliver major benefits to the European economy as a whole and enable a sea change in innovative capacity of one of the most important economic sectors in the UK.

1 Tait et al (2008). Innogen Policy Brief series, Appropriate Governance of the Life Sciences. Available from,20871,en.html

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