U.K. keeps funding for clinical research sites flat through to 2022

The United Kingdom government is to pump £112 million ($160 million) into a network of clinical research facilities from 2017 to 2022. Officials see the investment bolstering the attractiveness of the U.K. as a location for early-stage research, but the facilities will need to pull off these improvements without the benefit of access to a meaningfully bigger pot of money.

U.K. Minister for Life Sciences George Freeman

At first glance, the new deal looks like an increase over the £102 million the government agreed to put into clinical research facilities under the previous agreement. However, with the earlier deal covering a slightly shorter period time, the difference in the per-month funding is cut to a rounding error. The previous funding agreement, which runs out in 2017, split £1.9 million a month between the 19 facilities. Under the terms of the new funding program, the government has committed £1.9 million a month through to 2022.

While the figures involved are identical, the identities of the centers receiving the cash could change. An open application process is now underway. George Freeman, the U.K. life sciences minister, views the competitive bidding exercise as a way to ensure the money is put to good use. "What we're doing is making sure these places don't just take the money for granted," Freeman told Research Fortnight. "It's on a five-year programme, so in order to win funding again the facilities have got to show that they are doing good work, that they are investing, they are attracting trials."

Those trials include many sponsored by the industry. The sites are expected to work closely with the industry to trial experimental early-phase medicines. As such, while biopharma firms must cover all outlays above the standard NHS Treatment Cost, the industry is still set to benefit from whatever improvements are made as a result of the funding. Highlights from the last funding cycle include the commitment of cash to facilitate research into neurodegenerative diseases, peanut allergies and conditions affecting children.

The initiatives form part of the U.K.'s attempt to establish itself as the focal point for health and life science research in Europe. While the possibility of the U.K.'s exit from the European Union, notably the extra layer of complexity it would add to hiring from overseas, is still threatening to complicate the agenda, the government is pushing ahead with its strategy. A review on how to introduce innovative drugs into the U.K. healthcare system is due to report its findings in April. 

- read the release
- here's the application guide (PDF)
- and Research Fortnight's piece