ABPI calls for increased investment in U.K. clinical research

Union Flag Union Jack UK London
ABPI wants ongoing regulatory alignment with the EU. (iStock / Getty Images Plus / 8213erika)

The U.K. pharma industry has called for increased investment in clinical research in response to rising global competition for trials. Data collected by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) show the U.K. is currently a leading European location for clinical trials, but that position could be threatened by Brexit and other factors.

In its first annual clinical trial report, ABPI collated data on the number of studies, divided by phase and therapeutic area, that sponsors have initiated in the U.K. and other countries in recent years.

The data show sponsors initiated more phase 1 and 2 clinical trials in the U.K. in 2017 than in any other European country. In phase 1, the U.K. trailed only China and the U.S. Only the U.S. started more phase 2 trials than the U.K. in 2017.

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With sponsors starting slightly more phase 1 and 2 trials in the U.K. than in Germany and far more than in other large European countries such as France, the data suggest the ABPI’s home territory is in good shape. 

However, other aspects of the data reveal areas in which the U.K. lags behind its European peers. The U.K. is fifth on the list of countries that initiated the most phase 3 trials in 2017, trailing Germany and Spain. The smaller number of phase 3 trial starts in the U.K. is reflected in the numbers of patients enrolled across all phases in each country, which again shows the U.K. trailing Germany and Spain.

ABPI used the data to argue for changes to make the U.K. a more attractive location for clinical trials. The trade group wants the U.K. to increase investment in clinical research to keep pace with other countries such as China and Germany, which spend a higher percentage of gross domestic product on R&D than the U.K. does.

Other recommendations include the simplification of the process for setting up trials, better use of the U.K.’s health data and efforts to involve patients more in clinical research. ABPI released these recommendations at a time when politicians in the U.K. are campaigning for an upcoming election.

ABPI’s final recommendation addresses perhaps the most important consequence of the election, namely the future relationship between the U.K. and the EU. In keeping with the position the U.K. pharma industry has taken since the Brexit vote, ABPI wants the U.K.’s regulatory and research environment to remain aligned to the EU after it leaves the bloc.

Divergence could make it harder for sponsors to justify including the U.K. in multicountry clinical trials. For now, everything remains the same as it was before the vote to leave the EU, although that is also a problem in some regards for the industry as it has limited visibility. 

“As long as there is uncertainty regarding the timelines around Brexit and what the future relationship with the EU will look like, pharmaceutical companies will find it a challenge to make decisions to invest in the UK,” ABPI wrote.

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