UK offering $280M catalyst fund, patient data access for biotech R&D

The UK's conservative PM is offering the country's swooning biotech industry a shot in the arm today. In what is being billed as a major new initiative, David Cameron is pledging $280 million to support a "biomedical catalyst fund" to back early-stage academic and biotech R&D at small and medium-sized development outfits. And he's vowing to speed up access to experimental drugs while putting the country's massive NHS database to use for drug development efforts.

The idea of providing patient data to biopharma companies immediately drew political flak from the opposition, which called it a violation of patients' privacy. But Sarah Chan, deputy director of Manchester University's institute for science, ethics and innovations, quickly shrugged off the notion.

"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," she noted to Reuters. "As I understand it, the data that is to be released will be anonymized, and so cannot be used to target individual patients."

"The most crucial, fundamental thing we're doing is opening up the NHS to new ideas," Cameron plans to say, according to the Guardian. "I want the great discoveries of the next decade happening in British labs, the new technologies born in British startups."

Over the past year, the UK's substantial R&D industry has had to weather a number of setbacks, most significantly Pfizer's ($PFE) plans to close its big hub in Sandwich, Kent. Those setbacks, though, helped set the stage for today's new initiative.

- read the Reuters story
- here's the article from The Guardian