George Freeman - U.K. Parliament

An enthusiastic champion for life sciences in the U.K.

Name: George Freeman
Title: U.K. Minister for Life Sciences

Politicians don't end up on the influentials list at FierceBiotech very often, but we're happy to make an exception for George Freeman, the peripatetic minister for life sciences. Chronically upbeat, Freeman has been a driving force in looking to revive clinical-stage drug development in the United Kingdom. And he's pursuing some new initiatives that may go much further to making this leading country in European scientific circles into a powerhouse in drug R&D.

The U.K. has had its setbacks, perhaps most noticeably when Pfizer ($PFE) announced plans to dramatically reduce its presence in Sandwich as a hapless AstraZeneca ($AZN) was moving steadily to the latest iteration of its seemingly unending R&D reorganizations. But Freeman has been a tireless advocate of such "schemes" as a new early access program for innovative--but as yet unapproved--new drugs, which spotlighted Merck's ($MRK) cutting-edge immuno-oncology drug Keytruda.

Freeman has been a highly public spokesperson for the 100,000 Genomes Project in the U.K., which has set out to sequence the genomes of 100,000 patients in the country who suffer from cancer and rare diseases--supporting the trend toward developing more personalized therapies that can better address more targeted patient populations. And he's been at work on a potentially major advance, seeking a way that drug developers could win significant reimbursements on some of the more promising therapies they're working on--a program that has the potential to not only support homegrown biotechs but draw in biopharma researchers as well.

Freeman has a nearly unique perspective in Parliament, coming from a venture background that included fostering startups like the drug delivery expert Vectura. If he's successful--and in the U.K. these kinds of business initiatives have a tradition of winning broad support from various political players--Freeman could play a leading role in making the golden triangle of London, Oxford and Cambridge into a global hub in drug development that could rival Boston and San Francisco. That may require the help of some big local players like AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK), and financiers like Neil Woodford and Jim Mellon, but even the most influential players need a hand along the way.

-- John Carroll (email | Twitter)

For more:
U.K. looks to FDA 'breakthrough' status for inspiration in regulatory revamp
Can Neil Woodford reignite the U.K.'s taste for biotech investments?
Game-changer: A new plan takes shape to spur the U.K.'s biotech cluster

George Freeman - U.K. Parliament
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