The UK Government has said that there have been a number of improvements made to bolster the national commercial clinical trial industry, following a report by Lord James O’Shaughnessy.

Newly appointed health minister MP Victoria Atkins has released a statement about the work the government has done to make improvements in the UK’s commercial clinical trial sector as part of its scheme ‘Saving and Improving Lives: The Future of UK Clinical Research Delivery’.

The response comes after a report, which was published in May 2023 by O’Shaughnessy, a former health secretary in Theresa May’s cabinet, detailed issues in the UK’s commercial clinical trial sector, including slow start-up time and lack of resources in the National Health Service (NHS) to conduct research.

As a result of these issues and the pandemic, the country saw a 44% reduction in commercial clinical trial initiation between 2017 and 2022, dropping from fourth to tenth as global contributors.

In September 2023, O’Shaughnessy spoke exclusively to the Clinical Trials Arena about the report, stating that he had hopes for the industry to ‘double and double again’ by 2027, something which Atkins said the government is also striving to achieve.

Highlighted issues are being resolved

One of the main issues that have halted clinical trials was backlogs in research approval applications by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). However, Atkins said that delays have been cleared and the body has introduced a new notification scheme, which will shorten approval time for low-risk Phase III and Phase IV clinical trials.

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There were also barriers to acceptance of nationally agreed costs, which have now been removed. A new approach has been implemented, which the government states will both increase transparency for industry and ensure full cost recovery by the NHS.

Atkins also said the UK’s performance in clinical research has exceeded pre-pandemic levels. Not only in regard to the number of studies initiated but also in recruitment, delivery to time and target.

The government is also looking to launch new guidance on improved methods for identifying and contacting potential participants.

Atkin said that there is more work ongoing, which will “take longer to bear fruit”. This includes designing an effective and efficient performance data system which could be implemented in 2025. The system will deliver real-time data while also reducing administrative burden and improving the data available to enable effective oversight at all levels of the UK’s research ecosystem.

The statement comes the same week as the UK’s Chancellor for the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt promised £520m to life sciences in the country, including a £20m ($25m) to be focussed on dementia research.

In regards to trial improvement, a report by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) found that UK trials rose from 394 in 2021 to 411 in 2022.